For weeks, Ian Miller anxiously awaited the news. Every day he’d ask the same questions.
"Did we find out? Do they have it posted yet?"
A 12-year-old from North Coventry, Pa., Ian was an ‘A’ student involved in many activities, but his first love was soccer. And after working so hard, the young goalkeeper couldn’t wait to find out if he had made it.
Finally, one day in October 2009, his parents called him over and told him to look at the computer monitor. Ian had to do a double take. There his name was in the list of boys accepted into the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP
) training camp. He considered it a great achievement, and it was one of the thrills of h
is life, his mother would say.
Now, thanks to Ian and his parents, kids from across the nation and around the world will get a chance to step into his shoes and have an opportunity to live out their own soccer dreams.
In Ian’s Boots, Inc. was founded in July 2010 by Holly and Ron Miller to provide shoes — and in many cases, soccer cleats — to people in need. The organization was established in memory of their son, Ian, after his own soccer aspirations were cut short.
Ian began playing soccer when he was 4 years old, and it grew into his passion. While he was involved in student council, band and other sports, soccer was where he put his heart and soul.
Holly Miller said there were times when Ian would hop in the car after a baseball game and change into his soccer gear before being dropped off for a practice or a game. He would never miss soccer. Ian often played for two teams at a time, his school team and club team at Coventry Soccer Association.
Jared Cooney, 15, of Pottstown, Pa., played soccer with Ian for three years and said his former teammate was always happy when playing soccer and very reliable in goal. It’s that reliability that helped Ian get recognized for his ability as a goalkeeper.
After being accepted into US Youth Soccer ODP, Ian attended a couple training sessions that fall. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t get to participate in any more.
During a long-awaited skiing and snow tubing trip with his Boy Scout troop, Ian decided to take a solo ride on a plastic saucer during the last run of the night. While going down the hill, his saucer rotated so his back was facing down the hill. Ian collided with a ski lift tower and died from major trauma to the brain.
When Ian arrived at the hospital, they found a little piece of paper in his boot. On the paper was a Bible verse from James 1:2-4:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
"There we were at 3 in the morning in this tiny little emergency room in Coudersport, Pa., having just lost our only child, which was the greatest trial of our life. And there was this little note to persevere," Holly said. "It took us a while to digest that. But ultimately, since the note was in Ian’s boot, we give away shoes."
Months after Ian’s passing, Coventry Soccer Association held a memorial soccer tournament for Ian as a fundraiser. When the club approached the Millers asking what they wanted to do with the money raised, their initial thought was to create a pair of scholarships.
However, the Millers realized their son, who loved to help others, left the perfect answer for how to use the money in his boot.
"We said, ‘OK, a couple of kids get a prize with something like that,’ " Ron Miller said of the initial scholarship idea. "It was through that process that we came up with In Ian’s Boots. It benefits more people."
In Ian’s Boots started in time for the tournament in July 2010, and Ron said it was a great success with a bunch of shoes and money collected. The Ian Miller Memorial Soccer Tournament continued for two years. Now, with many of Ian’s peers grown up, the tournament has ceased, but the same can’t be said for the collection of shoes and cleats.
The Millers estimate that in less than three years they’ve donated 8,000 soccer cleats and more than 20,000 shoes in total, and there’s no stop in sight.
"It has grown exponentially," Holly said. "From a shoe perspective, locally, we support homeless shelters and underprivileged folks in groups and families. We’ve done disaster relief. We shipped shoes to victims of Hurricane Sandy."
In order to make the shoes appear fresh and new, each pair is cleaned and all soccer cleats get washed and sanitized. They’re then stored in a warehouse before being delivered to the recipients.
"Washing and preparing the shoes is time consuming, but it’s so worth it to help them out because it’s such a good cause," said Cooney, who said he helps his former teammate’s parents as much as he can.
A week ago on April 20, In Ian’s Boots took about 750 pairs of cleats and sneakers to the Kensington Soccer Club in an underprivileged area of Philadelphia, which allowed many children the chance to play the game in proper footwear. But the impact of In Ian’s Boots isn’t limited to the Mid-Atlantic region.
Ron said they’re in the process of sending 2,500 cleats to Guatemala, where orphanage managers said the kids love to play soccer on the playground despite not having cleats or balls. They’ve already sent cleats to Uganda and are now working on sending some to Ghana.
In Ian’s Boots has also partnered with the Central American Relief Efforts (CARE) to have an annual soccer tournament in Honduras, which will likely take place for a third time in July this year. Holly said she was especially proud of last year’s event, when an inadvertent act of sending both boys’ and girls’ shoes turned into a unique experience for the children in the area.
"In a very male-dominated society, the girls wanted to play soccer, but they were way down on the list in terms of getting anything or being able to play," Holly said. "Because we sent girls’ soccer cleats down, for the first time in history in this area, the girls were permitted and encouraged to play in the tournament."
Because of the girls’ games, the tournament nearly doubled. It was just another example of Ian’s legacy helping a child he never met get a chance to play the game he loved.
The Millers still have some difficult days when remembering their son, but they acknowledge there are people who aren’t as fortunate as they are. And with each pair of shoes donated — each one containing a little card with Ian’s story and James 1:2-4 — Ian’s memory lives on in a way the caring young boy would have loved.
"To us, it helps to know that he hasn’t died in vein. That through his going to heaven and being able to spread his story in this unique way, we’re able to help others," Holly said, noting that Ian loved to give gifts and volunteer to help others.
"As an only child, we tried to raise him to understand that the world does not revolve around him. This is kind of in keeping with what we taught him and what he liked to do. And in a major way, that’s very comforting to us."