He moves comfortably in a crowd. It’s the sign of a lifelong diplomat. And on a summer’s day he makes his way through the audience like the “Mayor of Pageantry”, with a handshake here, a kind word there, a salute of recognition across the field. He’s on his way to hand out trophies, but he’s ready to share some time on the front sideline, where he seems most at ease.
“I’ve been in this activity for so many years it seems like all my life.” He confides, “And what a life it has been! Early on, I wanted to audition for Drum Major in High School. But back then, in 1947, you were expected to twirl baton! So at the age of 15, I started taking lessons with Bob Dawson, the University of Dayton’s drum major. In a little over a year, it all seemed to come naturally, and I loved the challenge. Whenever I’d go to a competition to see or learn a new trick, I realized that I could perform it almost immediately. When young twirlers started to call for help, I began to teach twirling even though I was still in high school. I’ll never forget my very first student, Mary Jo Holl, who would go on to win Grand Nationals in 1963.”
A trained musician and teacher, Fred began to develop total band shows, including brass, woodwinds, percussion, drill, colorguard, and twirlers, as the best way to reach even more students. He directed the bands for the Fairborn City Schools from 1957 to 1968, eventually serving as Music Supervisor. But he also used his theatrical skills to bring a little bit of Broadway to his student casts by directing ten of the most popular Musicals of that time.
The United States Twirling Association, Inc was founded in 1957 by Fred and a group of twirling teachers in the Midwest where he served as the first President, filling many different roles over time.
“In May of 1959, the best thing in my life happened. I married my wonderful wife and best friend, Marlene Sedgeley from Auburn, Maine.” His yellowed wallet photo shows what looks like a cheerleader and a football player, but in reality they were both twirlers on a mission, establishing Camps and Clinics. In fact, “…no other twirling teacher or strutting teacher has ever produced as many Grand National Twirling and Strutting Champions as myself and Marlene”, he says with a hint of pride.
In the early years, the Blackhawks were made up of baton twirlers, flags, rifles, drums and brass instruments. Miller’s Blackhawks Twirling Corps established a record that is unequalled in the twirling world by winning the National Championship every year from 1956 through 1968. The Junior Corps went on to win 18 titles in 21 years. The Blackhawks would later become one of the first World Class Colorguards in Winter Guard International, competing for some ten years in the upper echelons.
The Blackhawks decades flew by, Fred admits, mentioning a tragic fire, Macy’s Parade appearances, trips to Spain, and most importantly, the births of his three children. In 2008, when USTA celebrated its 50th Anniversary, 25 of his beloved Blackhawks alumnae gathered to perform “one more time” in Daytona Beach, to the kind of standing ovation that followed the group through its history.