article by Bob Oppenheim in June 7 Elkhart Truth

There was an unlikely area standout at last Saturday’s IHSAA state track finals at Indiana University.

In his first year of participating in high school track, Bethany Christian senior Simon Graber Miller placed fifth in the high jump with a school-record leap of 6-7. Graber Miller broke his own school-record of 6-6, which was set at the Lakeland Invitational in early May.

“I knew it was my last (track) meet as a Bethany student,” said Graber Miller. “I wanted to go all out and hit my PR of 6-6. Getting 6-7 was really cool.

“I didn’t think I’d place in the top 10 at state, let alone in the top five, so I’m really happy with the way things turned out.”

Graber Miller started the day by being unsure of he belonged at the state meet.

“I was definitely nervous,” Graber Miller said. “The track itself is intimidating. It’s huge and you see a lot of crazy equipment out there. You also see (track athletes) that knew what they were doing. But once I started jumping I felt a lot less nervous.”

Graber Miller took the lessons he learned from his coaches and eventually became a medalist. 

“I’ve gotten some really good coaching from (head coach) Ben Hurst and (assistants) Michael Yeakey and Linda Hochstetler,” Graber Miller said. 

There were plenty of family and friends there for Graber Miller to share the great achievement with. Graber Miller’s parents – Keith and Ann – along with his uncle (Daniel) and aunt (Anita) made the trip to Bloomington and were glad they did. 

“They were really excited and happy for me,” Graber Miller said about his family. I heard them cheering after every jump. They were really proud of me. It was fun.

“I also knew there were a lot of people watching me in Goshen and in the Bethany Christian community and I wanted to make them proud.”

Also beaming with pride was Bruins’ track coach Benjamin Hurst.

“Simon’s performance at the state meet was a great example of his inner drive and dedication to becoming a better jumper,” said Hurst. “This is his first year competing in track and field and he has only been jumping for just over two months, but he has become an incredible student of the sport and event.

“Simon studied high jump technique and mechanics with the help of his jumps coach – Linda Hochstetler. His natural athleticism and talent allowed him to apply what he was learning as the season progressed. I think his experiences and relationships built with other jumpers at the sectional and regional helped to prepare him for the pressure he would face at the state meet. After seeing his jumps at the state finals, I believe he looked more relaxed and comfortable than he had all season.” 

Hurst convinced Graber Miller to join the track team and eventually be a high jumper midway through this season.

“Ben approached me because I was one of the fastest players on the soccer team,” Graber Miller said. “He wanted me for sprints. It wasn’t a huge committment for me because the track season is only a month and a half long. I also had friends on the track team so I thought it would be fun to do.”

Standing at 6-foot-4, Hurst thought Graber Miller could also help the team by being in the high jump. Graber Miller started the season by just competing in the 100, 200 meters and 400-meter relay.

“Ben was like, ‘you’re tall, try to high jump and have some fun,”’ Graber Miller said. “I was happy to do it, but I was pretty nervous the first time I did the high jump at Jimtown. I thought I was going to finish last. I jumped 6-foot. Once I got good I was more excited to do the high jump.”

Being good almost wasn’t enough for Graber Miller to make it past regionals. He finished fourth with a 6-4 showing. If you weren’t in the top three, a 6-4 jump was needed to qualify for the state finals.

“I started at 5-10,” Graber Miller said about his regional performance. “It took me three attempts to get to 6-1. I was then at 6-2 and 6-3 and it took me two attempts to get to 6-4. It was a weird jumping day for me.

“After the regional my coaches helped me fix a couple of issues that I had. I didn’t have enough speed going into my jumps. I also wasn’t perpendicular to the bar.”

Graber Miller’s impact on the team wasn’t just felt on the track. He also provided leadership to a young team. After going several years without varsity track, the Bruins were back competing in that sport in 2017.

“Simon was an incredibly positive influence on the boys track team,” Hurst said. “Not only was he the high points winner for our team, but his leadership and hard work at practice were just as, if not more important, to our young team.”

There were 21 boys on the team, with 15 of them being either ninth or 10th graders.

Graber Miller said that he’ll be signing in the coming weeks to continue his track career at Goshen College. He also plans on playing JV soccer in college. Graber Miller wants to major in business with a minor in history.

Graber Miller plans on keeping busy athletically during the summer.

“I’m going to keep practicing my high jump and I’m going to start going to soccer practices at Goshen College,” he said. 

“Soccer and track are two really different sports. I appreciate them both equally.”