By KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
DENMARK – It may be a cliché, but in this case, it has never been more apt.
Like Father, like son.
Thirty-four years after current Denmark athletic director Bill Miller helped guide his 1985 Denmark Viking basketball team to the state tournament in Madison, Brennen Miller will be an integral part of the 2018-19 Vikings this Thursday afternoon when they take on Waupun in the Division 3 state semifinals.
“I’ve had a lot of people bring it up over the past few days,” says Bill of the repeat performance by his son and the current Viking team. “It’s kind of embarrassing to be honest. You want the focus to be on this year’s team and not 34 years ago. The spotlight should be directed on them.”
Still, there’s no denying they symmetry. Like Bill, Brennen is a point guard and their two teams are currently bookends on either side of Denmark’s state tournament history: they are the only two Viking teams to reach state.
Bill was a starter on the team that went on to beat Prairie du Chien, 63-59, in the old field house in Madison. Also a member of that team was Mike Suemnick, father of current Denmark post player, Pat Suemnick. It was in the narrow semifinal victory that Bob Olsen became the second Viking to reach 1,000 points. He followed Dan Kuehn as a member of that club, who also reached the milestone the same year.
This year’s Vikings similarly produced two 1,000-point scorers – the school’s sixth and seventh members – in Zane Short and Brady Jens. Suemnick is within 50 points of joining the elite club.
Brennen is just a sophomore but has proved a heady, reliable and essential sixth man who was pressed into a starting role during the 11 games Jens was injured over the first half of the season.
“I’m not surprised that he’s done well,” Bill says. “I knew he had ability. I guess I’m most happy with his mentality on the court and being able to step in and make contributions as a sophomore. He knows where to be on the court, he’s smart and he plays hard on defense. He knows his limitations on offense and recognizes that there are those other guys who are scorers.
“I think that’s one of the big things about this team. Everyone knows his role.”
Miller has been one of only two subs in Cody Stelmach’s rotation over almost the entire season and has produced 4.7 points, as well as two assists and two rebounds a game.
Bill says its been difficult watching Brennen and the Vikings these past two games, both of which went from being well in hand to nail-biters down the stretch.
“Yeah, I’ve had butterflies in my stomach the last week or two,” he laughs. “I think it’s tougher on the parent than the kid.”
As for Brennen’s curiosity about his father’s experience, Bill says they’ve watched a grainy video from that 1985 championship, though he says his friends more than Bill himself have been putting the bug in his son’s ear.
“He’s asked some questions about our games down there,” Bill says.
After Denmark’s 46-41 sectional final victory over Freedom on Saturday, Bill was able to share a moment with his son. As athletic director he received the championship plaque and eventually passed it along to Brennen. They exchanged a hug at midcourt.
“I’m excited for Brennen and the whole team,” Bill says. “It’s a really good group of guys. Something like this doesn’t come around very often.”