By Alison Bailin Batz, for wranglernews.com
Call it a neighborhood kid’s holiday gift to the community.
Corona del Sol High School alum Brett Miller grew up in South Tempe dreaming of the day he would join the Fiesta Bowl, which has grown into one of the Valley’s endearing institutions with its football game, parade and year-round charitable work.
“This may sound odd, but I began volunteering for the bowl when I was about 6 – well, however much a little kid can help,” said Miller, now 34 and a Fiesta Bowl Yellow Jacket Committee member.
Miller fondly remembers as a kid running around the Fiesta Bowl Parade with his brother, 3 1/2 years his senior, and then trying to help all of the grown-ups who worked the game later in the day.
“Both my brother, Chad, and I knew from that moment we wanted to make a positive impact on the community,” Miller said.
Of course, they would need to learn how to read and master multiplication tables first.
The Miller brothers had a trailblazing mentor, Sherry Henry, a family friend and the first female head of the Fiesta Bowl, and the first woman to head any college football bowl organization of any kind.
“The Fiesta Bowl also opened my eyes to sports from a young age. Chad, too,” Miller said.
Miller and his brother played every team and individual sport while growing up. Chad settled on baseball and football, Brett on basketball.
Miller would play basketball for Corona all four years in high school before being recruited to several smaller colleges, where he played for two seasons.
“I knew I wanted to transition to ASU, so I had to make a very hard decision and end my formal playing career at about 20, but it was the best thing I ever did,” said Miller.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in 2010 and, at 23, joined the Fiesta Bowl as the youngest active Yellow Jacket in the history of the organization.
“Unfortunately, I had to go inactive for a spell as I built my business,” said Miller, who rejoined as a full active member in 2015, just in time to see Chad complete his service and earn life-member status.
Miller partnered with his father and brother on a business venture, Legacy Sports USA, the brain trust behind Bell Bank Park, a privately owned, 320-acre multi-use family sports and entertainment complex set to open in the Southeast Valley in January 2022. Bell Bank Park will feature a multi-purpose arena and outdoor amphitheater. The project is expected to create more than 1,500 jobs and generate millions of dollars in direct economic impact to the community, with an expected 3 million visitors annually.
Miller also married the love of his life, Jennifer, in 2018 and began a family with the birth of their daughter last year.
It is the spirit of giving to the community that feeds him, though, Miller said, and that drew him back to donning one of those yellow jackets.
The past six years since rejoining the Fiesta Bowl, Miller often has been plucked to serve as liaison for one of the teams in the bowl game, which on Jan. 1 will pit Notre Dame against Oklahoma State.
There’s more to it.
“Outside of the game and its economic and cultural impact, which is immense, not everyone realizes our direct community impact,” Miller said.
That reach is due in large part to the influence of his mentor, Henry.
“Sherry Henry is not only a dear family friend but a second mother to me,” Miller said.
Henry got involved with the Fiesta Bowl Parade in 1973, the bowl’s third year, handling just about every detail – down to painting the horses’ hooves silver and buying doughnuts for the volunteers. She wrote scripts for the parade’s television hosts, and later acted as a spotter after the broadcast was syndicated and the hosts began writing their own scripts.
By the early 1980s, she had joined the Yellow Jacket Committee and was invited to join the Board, becoming its first female member and eventually serving on the Executive Committee before becoming board chair.
In 1994, after years of service on the Fiesta Bowl Yellow Jacket Committee, Henry became the first female head of the Fiesta Bowl.
“Some media wanted to make an issue of her gender, but Sherry wouldn’t allow it,” Miller said.
Henry was known for getting things done and that spirit still defines the organization, according to Miller, who said that during the past year alone, the Fiesta Bowl:
- Donated 50,000-plus pieces of personal protective equipment.
- Presented more than $1 million to Arizona teachers via Desert Financial Fiesta Bowl Charities Wishes for Teachers.
- Provided nearly 3.75 million meals to those in need.
- Supported more than 688,000 youth through grant programs.
- Personally touched nearly 50 local nonprofits via time and financial contributions.
“For about six years now, we’ve also been active with our Fiesta Bowl Playground Builds Program,” Miller said. “Through it, the bowl builds two playgrounds a year, with a goal of providing a safe space for kids throughout the entire state of Arizona.”