SUMMERSIDE – Gerard Smith’s athletic career may not have started as young as some do, but it’s lasted a lot longer than most.
Smith, who has been involved with baseball and hockey for most of his life, has been playing and coaching sports for 60-plus years. The Kensington Monaghan Farms Wild major midget team honoured the retired Summerside school teacher before last week’s home game against the Saint John Vitos.
“He (Smith) has played or coached on more championship teams than anyone else on P.E.I. in both sports, including two senior Hardy Cup national hockey championships as a goaltender (with the Charlottetown Islanders),” said Community Gardens public address announcer Jeremy MacDonald in introducing Smith.
Start in sports
Smith, who grew up in Websters Corner, near Fort Augustus, began playing senior baseball with Mount Stewart when he was 13-years-old. He never learned to skate until he was 16, but was playing university hockey at 17.
“I have been playing ever since,” quipped Smith, who has been tending goal for over 50 years and still straps on the pads for noon-hour hockey in Summerside.
Smith’s teaching career started at St. Teresa’s at age 19. He moved to Summerside three years later in 1965, and taught math, science and geography over 35 years at Summerside Intermediate, where he quickly became involved in coaching.
“We had soccer teams, we used to have a hockey team and go to tournaments in Halifax, play a few tournaments on the Island and at that time (M.E.) Callaghan and Hernewood used to have hockey teams,” recalled Smith. “Later on it was softball. You were always involved with the kids in sports, extra-curricular activities.”
Two of the biggest rewards for Smith coaching were turning a team’s fortunes around in a positive way, and helping grow the confidence of his players. Winning championships took a back seat to helping his players become solid citizens.
“When you get into coaching and things like that, it’s to help the kids out,” emphasized Smith. “If you think you can do them some good, keep them off the street, you are really doing a service to your community to keep them out of trouble. Sports is a great vehicle for that.”
Smith, a former head coach of the Summerside Western Capitals’ junior A team, said the No. 1 thing coaches have to emphasize is that players have fun.
“I was just listening to Sports Central the other day and Mark Messier was on,” explained Smith, who very quietly, and without no fanfare, played an integral role in the building of the 1996-97 Capitals that won the Canadian junior A hockey championship in Summerside. “One of the stats he (Messier) threw out was only one in 10 kids are playing hockey in Canada, which really surprised me.
“I knew it was going down, but I didn’t think it was going down that low. One of the things was expenses, it’s getting real expensive to play hockey now; time commitment; fear of getting hurt with all the concussions and things like that, and the last thing was the fun was taken out of the game, the kids weren’t having fun anymore.
“I think that’s sad. Minor hockey has to make sure the kids are having fun.
“Why are the registrations going down? There has to be a reason for it, and I think it’s time somebody has a bull session and gets it right.”
When asked if there are any particular teams he coached that stand out in his mind, Smith didn’t hesitate to point out two hockey teams.
“One is Three Oaks High School back in 1983,” recalled Smith, who has also served in a number of capacities in the sport of harness racing over the years. “I remember Layton Schurman coming around the early part of February, and he asked me if I was interested in coaching them for the rest of the year because the coach had quit.
“I had seen them play a few times and they weren’t that disciplined, they were out of shape and everything negative. I said, ‘I’ll think about it,’ and I finally did coach them.
“I remember the first night we had practice in the old Steele Arena, and there were a couple of guys who knew me from Summerside Intermediate. One of them was Sheldon Collicutt, and he told the boys, ‘You better be ready and have your skates tied tight, she’s going to be a wild one.’
“I remember the first practice there were seven or eight of them throwing up. But to make a long story short, we went on to win the high school (championship) that year, and we won it the next year.
“It was very rewarding. A lot of the kids that were on those teams are good people in Summerside, and a lot of them are still playing hockey.”
The other team Smith has fond memories of was a Summerside midget AA squad he coached with Greg MacDonald around 2006.
“A bunch of rang-a-tangs that really came together as a hockey team,” smiled Smith. “At the end of the year you would go to war with them.
“The kids were starving for direction and really felt good about themselves. That’s what it’s all about – they have to feel good for themselves.”
Coached in Kensington
Smith’s resumé also includes a tenure with Kensington’s entry in the New Brunswick Junior B Hockey League during the 1990-91 season. The late Robert Keir Cousins, who owned and operated the team, recruited Smith midway through the year.
“Robert Keir was just a great guy,” said Smith. “He (Cousins) would do anything for the kids he had on his team. . .
“We lost to a team from Tracadie-Sheila in New Brunswick in the playoffs. They knew they were in for a series, and we had to feel good about it in the end.
“Robert sacrificed a lot. I remember we lost the first two games up there, we came home and won the third (game). Before the fourth game he didn’t know if he wanted to pay the expenses to go back to Tracadie-Sheila for the (deciding) fifth game. I said, ‘Robert, we’re in this for the long haul.’
“We won the fourth game, went back for the fifth and lost it, but it was a great experience.”