Is he Smitty or Grandpa?
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
The members of the Coal Ridge girls basketball team may not realize just how lucky they really are.
In veteran head coach Rick Schmitz, the Titans have an old-school type leader who’s enjoyed success through the years at both Rifle and Coal Ridge high schools. Schmitz-coached teams usually find themselves at, or near, the top of the league at season’s end and in the thick of things come playoff time.
Throw seasoned assistant Damon Martinez into the mix and you have a pretty fair high school coaching staff.
There is another gentleman on the Coal Ridge bench who bears mentioning, and no pun is intended by using the word bear – as in Rifle Bear.
That familiar face on the Titans’ sideline is Jack Smith, who began his career in education back in 1959 as a student teacher at Rifle High School. Smith taught life sciences and physical education. He also coached boys and girls basketball, football, baseball and track for the Bears before retiring in 1990.
Smith, who was born and raised on a ranch near Cotopaxi, Colo., and who still loves being with his horses, didn’t stay retired for long.
After assisting Schmitz for many seasons at Rifle High in his post-retirement years, Smith agreed in 2008 to serve in the same capacity under Schmitz at Coal Ridge.
The drawing card for Smith to become unretired wasn’t so much teaching the game of basketball as it was just being able to get back with young people.
“What I’ve always liked most about coaching is being able to work with the student-athlete,” said Smith, regarded by many in the area as a coaching icon. “I wanted them to be prepared for the game of life. The kids were much more important than wins and losses.”
I’ve always known Smith as “Smitty,” and that’s how I have addressed him since my playing and coaching days at Glenwood Springs High School. The kids at Coal Ridge have another name for the stately, slightly graying coach who walks with a little hitch in his get-along after having a hip replaced last summer: “Grandpa.”
Smith smiles broadly at the mention of the nickname. He’s happy to be known as Grandpa, or Smitty, as long as he can be around the kids he loves and impart the years of experience and wisdom he has stored within.
Whether telling jokes to the players during a quick break in practice, or sliding a caramel candy into the palm of Schmitz and Martinez before a big game, Smith has a way of keeping those around him loose, smiling and always appreciative of his genuine nature.
Smith is a big fan of all the kids he has had the opportunity to work with in his career, and this year’s group of Titan basketballers is no exception.
“I enjoy this group of kids. They have a great attitude and they come out wanting to play every night,” said Smith. “They always give it their best shot. They’re fun to be around.”
I have a hunch the kids feel the same way about “Grandpa.”
Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports writer.
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