Smith leaving wrestling legacy, taking a little bit from Kinnick
Stars and Stripes June 5, 2003
For six years, Scott Smith made wrestling a family affair at Nile C. Kinnick High in Japan.
His championship legacy included four Far East tournament team titles and individual freestyle gold medals for 10 of his wrestlers.
Even as he departs his post and Yokosuka Naval Base for a yearlong leave of absence, perhaps longer, in his hometown of Bellingham, Wash., Smith plans to bring part of that legacy with him.
His sons, Joel and Conner, will be attending Western Washington, and two of Kinnick’s 2003 Far East gold medalists, Go Yamada and Jason Bailey, are headed to Whatcom County Community College to establish their state residency, so they can attend Western Washington later.
All the while, they’ll be living with their former coach.
“Here is coming with me,” said Smith, 56, who’s taught math and coached wrestling for a quarter of a century, the last six years at Kinnick. “I couldn’t be happier about the crowd that’s coming with me.”
Smith is the most decorated of the coaches who are leaving their Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific posts, either for teaching jobs in the United States or Europe or sabbatical leaves.
Having a lot of brothers participate helped Smith maintain a family atmosphere around his Kinnick program.
“It was a chunk of brothers,” Smith said. “It really and truly was a family. We all shared wins and losses, no matter who stepped on the mat. That’s the way this whole program’s been for me, from Day 1.”
His protégés agree.
“He’s not just a coach. I see him as a father, ‘Daddy Smith,’ in every aspect. Not just in wrestling, but he treated me like his own son,” Yamada said.
Oddly, after coaching at Meridian High, a Class A school in Washington “never big enough to scare anybody but to win a few individual state championships,” Smith was not interested in wrestling when he arrived at Kinnick in the summer of 1997.
“I came over here to be a teacher, where I can set aside some of those distractions and make myself the best teacher I can be,” he said. “But later that year, I heard a couple of people saying they were going to wrestle, I had Joel as a seventh-grader and Conner as a 10th-grader, and I began thinking, ‘Yeah, maybe I do coach.’”
Smith also elevated the annual Kinnick Invitational from a small event featuring Tokyo-area teams to the primary warmup for the Far East tournament, attracting teams from Korea and Okinawa.
Smith has mixed feelings about departing Kinnick and Yokosuka, particularly since he leaves behind a group of promising freshmen eager to carry on Kinnick’s tradition.
“I’m going to miss my kids,” he said. “I can never apologize to them enough. There’s a bunch of young bucks coming up who are going to be studs. Those are the guys who do all the work.
“But it’s something that just has to happen. That’s part of the lifestyle here. People come and go. If I thought about it too much, there’s no way I’d leave my kids. And they’ve been pretty good to me. It was certainly the best coaching experience I’ve had in my life.”
Teacher-coaches at Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific high schools who are transferring to new assignments or taking sabbatical leaves, their names, old schools, sports they coached and new schools or destinations:
John Mitchell, Robert D. Edgren, tennis and boys basketball; Vilseck High, Germany.
John Parker, Robert D. Edgren, boys soccer; Combat Camera Group, San Diego.
Jim Shulson, Kadena, boys basketball; Hanau High, Germany.
Vicki Leivermann-Shulson, Kadena, athletic director; Hanau High, Germany.
Greg Dejardin, Zukeran Elementary, Kubasaki girls basketball; Washington.
Joseph Mee, Matthew C. Perry, boys basketball; Italy.
Jessie Mercado, Nile C. Kinnick, track; Detroit.
Keith Ross, Nile C. Kinnick, boys basketball and baseball; Taegu American, South Korea.
Eric Lee, Pusan American, boys volleyball; leave of absence to Washington.
Ron Behr, Seoul American, tennis; RAF Alconberry, England.
Tom McKinney, Seoul American, girls soccer; Okinawa.
Brad Opfer, Seoul American Middle School, Seoul American High baseball; American School in London.
Heather Pope, Taegu American, girls soccer; Grafenwoehr Elementary, Germany.
Kelly Dolan, Taegu American, athletic director, tennis, boys basketball; Hohenfels Elementary, Germany.
Scott Smith, Yokosuka Middle School, Kinnick wrestling; leave of absence, Bellingham, Wash.