PITTSBURG — After spending 37 years on the sidelines at St. Mary’s Colgan football games, head coach Chuck Smith announced his retirement on Friday.
Smith undeniably left his mark on high school football in the area, changing the lives of thousands of students and players who passed through the halls at SMC.
Several former players and associates of Smith chimed in on his legacy to the area as well as wanting to wish him the best as he enters retirement.
“He has an amazing ability to make every member of the team at every position feel like their role was the most critical towards the team’s success,” said Aaron Amershek, who was a four-time letterman at middle linebacker and fullback at SMC under Smith from 1993-96. “As a player, I learned no matter your role, give your absolute best and it will better the team. It’s something I have always taken with me in life.”
Smith accumulated a 343-75 record while at the helm for the Panthers. His first of five state titles came in 1984, when the Panthers went 13-0 that season.
While most of the fans got to see the final result on game days, it was all of the hard work during the week of practice leading up to each contest which put SMC over the top, according to Gary Kratz, who was a center for Colgan from 1982-85. Some of his most vivid memories were the hours spent in preparation before going into battle.
“I was lucky enough to be on the state championship team in 1984,” Kratz said. “It was practice that stood out to me the most. Coach Smith challenged his players to not take a play off, even in practice. He always said if you take a play off in practice, you’ll take a play off in the game.”
It was also in practice where Zac Dickey, who played under Coach Smith from 2003-06, experienced several moments of faith and leadership from his head coach.
“Whenever we would be practicing — it didn’t matter if Coach Smith was in a good mood or a bad mood — if there was an ambulance that drove by, or if we heard sirens from an emergency vehicle, we would stop practice and all say a series of prayers for the person(s) those emergency workers were responding to,” Dickey said. “That was something I was struck by, and I continue to do it up to this point whenever I hear [sirens].”
One of Colgan’s most memorable runs under Smith came in 2000-03, when the Panthers won 66 straight games, including state championships in all four seasons.
“He was a mentor, a teacher and a coach,” said Caleb Farabi, who was a running back for Colgan from 2000-03. “He has carried every title and did the best anyone could do in those positions.”
Also playing for Coach Smith during that run was his son, Mark, who was the quarterback for SMC. Mark Smith was one of four brothers — including Nick, Jeff and Chas — who all played for their father, and has since become a head football coach at Frontenac High School. He credits his father for all the success he’s had in life.
“I was fortunate enough to grow up around football and be at practice with my dad. He would let me come to practice every day since I was around five years old,” Mark Smith said. “I am sure there were days he regretted having me out there distracting him or his players during practice. I learned almost everything about football and life from my dad. I had a front-row seat to see the impact that he had on his players. Football is so much more than Xs and Os, and my dad has been successful for so long because he did everything the right way.”
How Coach Smith interacted with his players over the years caught the attention of Area Supervisor Official Don Clapsaddle, who has been officiating Southeast Kansas high school football games for 38 years.
“Coach Smith has always been a class act,” Clapsaddle said. “He treated his players great. You couldn’t ask for a better coach-player relationship as far as he is concerned.”
One distinct story stood out to the long-time official when thinking back on SMC games he worked.
“One particular time, we had a game with Baxter Springs playing at [Hutchinson Field] and there was a rain and lightning delay,” Clapsaddle said. “During the delay, we went over by the dressing area, and there was a car parked there. They just happened to ask how long it was going to be, typical chat, and I told them how lucky they were to have a guy like Coach Smith as their coach. They said, ‘He isn’t just our coach, our kids learn more about life from him probably more than they do about football.’ I thought that sums things up pretty well.”
Coach Smith has had a profound effect on many lives in Southeast Kansas, whether it be a former player, student, colleague or family member. The enrichment he provided on a daily basis for nearly 40 years will be a legacy never forgotten.
“Coach is extremely humble,” Dickey said. “But I hope he will allow himself to carry with him the self-satisfaction of not only the successes he was able to generate for our parochial school, but that he and his family’s selfless service to that school is widely acknowledged and will forever be respected.”
-- Lucas Davis is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on twitter @LDsportswriter.