Rifle turns out to remember Coach Smith
Although it was impossible to quantify the two, sounds of laughter certainly, at times, overcame the tears shed Saturday at Rifle High School, where more than 300 people turned out to remember coaching legend Jack Smith.
The memorial service served as a venue for family, friends, fellow coaches, former students and others to share memories of Coach Smith, whose legacy in western Colorado athletics spanned more than five decades. He died Jan. 16 at the age of 80.
Pastor Dene Johnson asked those in attendance Saturday, toward the end of the two-hour service, to raise their hand if Smith had coached them. Hands shot into the air across the newly named Jack Smith Gymnasium.
The bold lettering for the gymnasium’s new name was painted earlier this week. An official dedication is planned for Feb. 9 before the Bears girls’ basketball game.
Many who spoke Saturday mentioned the so-called “Jackisms” — comical quips coach Smith used to comment on athletics, as well as life. The two were often related.
Jessie Pressler, a member of the Rifle girls golf team, which Smith helped coach as recently as last fall, recalled her first tournament. As she was preparing to tee off, Coach Smith offered some standard instructions. Then the girl before Pressler teed off and Coach told her, “whatever (you) do just don’t do that.”
Other sayings such as “I’ve seen better swings on my back porch,” were repeated by Pressler and other members of the golf team. Those comments and others drew laughter from the audience.
As Smith’s grandson Kyler Smith noted in his eulogy, it is difficult to tell a story about Coach Smith that didn’t make people laugh. Kyler retold a story about going up to Meeker for a three-day golf tournament; the kind that his grandfather would load up the camper for and watch his grandson play.
The story was littered with funny memories, including the evening that a friend of Smith’s stopped by the camper. Smith was already in bed and after Kyler called for his grandpa, he appeared in his underwear. Without skipping a beat, Coach Smith asked his friend how he was and dove straight into conversation — one of the many characteristics that defined Smith. The man could talk, several speakers noted Saturday.
His genuine and skillful way of engaging in friendly conversation was a constant throughout his life and helped him transcend generational gaps, which grew wider as Smith continued coaching, even in the decades after he retired from teaching at Rifle High School in 1990. He love interacting with young people and helping to shape their life — often leading by example when imparting his wisdom.
As his son, Dr. Tod Smith, remembered, there were certain things his father could not relate to, such as computers. He would look at the keyboard, Tod said in remembering his father, and say: “How do you expect me to use this damn thing? The alphabet is not even in order.” Obviously since the keyboard displays in that same order on smartphones, he never had one of those, Tod joked.
Despite some of those generational differences, Coach Smith still connected with student athletes less than a quarter of his own age, which Tod distilled into a quality that he called “Jack Smith cool.”
That “cool” helped lead to success as a coach, but also established Smith as a key figure in the lives of many people. In discussing his fear of delivering one of the eulogies Saturday, former coach Brad Skinner noted Coach’s status.
“It’s one thing to get up and talk about a fellow coach, a fellow teacher, a fellow mentor, but this is Jack Smith,” Skinner said. “This is a legend.”
Several people thanked Smith’s wife, Barbara, for sharing her husband with so many people.
“Thank you,” Reva Haskin, a former basketball player at Rifle High School, said to Barbara. “… because I’m certain he was out of your life because he was so much in mine, and thank you for being as generous and allowing that to happen with myself and all the others.”
Haskin and others noted that the lessons Smith imparted often extended beyond the field or gymnasium.
“If you’re going to do something, never do it half-assed,” Tod remembered his father saying. Tod translated that saying to mean that if you do a task then “take pride in the end result do that task as best you can and be the best you can.”
“Words to live by,” Tod concluded.
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