Chuck Smith has devoted a large portion of life to coaching basketball in Yarmouth. The sport has had an impact on his life, and his coaching has had an impact on countless others.
© Tina Comeau
YARMOUTH, N.S. – They still call him “coach,” even though a generation or more may have passed since they played for him.
By “him,” we mean Chuck Smith, whose many years as a local basketball coach and instructor have made his name practically synonymous with basketball in Yarmouth.
Smith likely is best known to many people for the time he coached the varsity boys team at Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School, including a stint of about a dozen years starting in 1979 or so and later another four years. He coached at the junior high level for about five years and he also has coached mini, bantam and midget ball.
A few years ago, Smith returned to the YCMHS boys team as an assistant to head coach Dana Cunningham, a role he will have again this coming season.
Then there is Yarmouth’s annual weeklong youth basketball camp – scheduled this year for Aug. 21-25 at YCMHS – through which Smith and others have introduced a lot of kids to basketball and have helped them work on their game.
Dr. Ravi Parkash, who played for Smith on the Yarmouth high school team from 1987 to ’90, has fond memories of Smith’s camps.
“The summer camps that he ran were like the best part of the summer,” Parkash recalls. “Everybody used to look forward to basketball camp.”
Now chief of emergency medicine at Dartmouth General Hospital, Parkash reflected a bit on the time he spent playing for Smith as a member of the YCMHS Vikings, saying Smith emphasized the importance of hard work.
“I think effort was something that he really kind of brought out in everybody,” Parkash says.
Bill Whitaker, who played for YCMHS under Smith from the early-to-mid-1980s, says Smith helped his players develop values and skills they could carry into their life well beyond high school.
“I don’t think I’d be where I am today without Coach,” says Whitaker, who lives in the Washington, D.C. area, where he is president of Washington Jesuit Academy, a school for inner-city kids.
Whitaker says he was impressed with Smith’s dedication to the Vikings, noting that Smith’s involvement with the team was on a volunteer basis and entailed much time away from his family. He was struck too, he said, by how Smith treated his players.
“Whether it was the star of the team or someone who wasn’t fortunate enough to play as many minutes,” Whitaker says, “he just had a way of treating young men at a very vulnerable time. High school’s tough. High school’s tough for everybody.”
Whitaker, who went on to play basketball collegiately at Acadia University, says he has kept in touch with Smith and sees him during his summertime visits to the Yarmouth area.
For his part, Smith says he loves hearing from former players, likening a high school basketball team to a family of sorts, “a family of lifelong friends.”
Smith, 67, remembers liking a variety of sports when he was a boy. Recalling how he was introduced to basketball, he says, “It was actually Nate Bain at the (Yarmouth) YMCA. I remember meeting him at the Y. It was bitty basketball. That’s where I started. First coach was Frank Davis. It would have been Dick Davis’s brother. Those were the guys that got me started in basketball.”
Smith found he was pretty good at it and, gradually, it became his main sport.
“I liked the fact that you’re on the go all the time – offence, defence, back and forth,” he says. “It suited my personality of being busy and wanting to be a part of every play.”
Smith was a Boston Celtics fan. In the pre-cable days, when viewing options were limited to a channel or two, Smith would listen to radio broadcasts of Celtics games.
Smith remembers his Yarmouth high school team going to Acadia to play the university’s junior varsity squad. Gib Chapman, Acadia’s head basketball coach, was watching the game. Smith says he played poorly.
“I said ‘well, there goes that opportunity,’” Smith recalls. “Lo and behold, I get a recruiting package two weeks later from Acadia, from Gib Chapman, saying that he liked what he saw. He saw potential.”
Smith went to Acadia after finishing high school, playing mostly on the Axemen’s JV squad. By his third year, he says, he might have been ready for a spot on the varsity team, but by this time he had decided to focus more on his studies. He continued to play, however, his love of basketball firmly established.
Later, after returning to Yarmouth, his passion for the sport led him to become the Vikings’ basketball coach.
“When I first started, I was pretty strict about showing up on time, working hard,” he says.
Three of his YCMHS clubs made it to provincials.
Asked about some of the things he tried to get across to his players, he says, “Being disciplined in what you’re doing and being committed. That’s the big thing for me, and I was big on ‘There’s no I in team.’ I emphasized teamwork.”
Ultimately, what he found through coaching basketball was that he liked helping people.
“I was doing something that I loved and teaching the kids skills, “ he says, “so it was a good combination for me.”
Bill Whitaker said while Smith was a great coach, “It’s so much more than that ... Just the stuff he taught me about being a gentleman, and the importance of what that means in the bigger picture, a lot more than a 20-point game or rebounds or a win or a loss. The wins and losses in Coach’s eyes were always about being a good guy and being respectful of others.”
Like Whitaker and other former players, Ravi Parkash was struck by Smith’s dedication to the high school basketball program.
“That, I think, brushed off on us, seeing somebody give of themselves all those years,” he says. “It was fantastic.”
Parkash remembers one day, when he was in Grade 6 or so, attending one of the skill sessions Smith would do. Whitaker was there too. Parkash recalls Whitaker – a few years his senior, who had played for Smith – coming over and telling Parkash that Smith would be the “best coach you’ll ever have.”
Today, more than three decades later, Parkash says Whitaker’s statement turned out to be true.
WHAT OTHER FORMER PLAYERS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT COACH:
Andy Baxter, Yarmouth, Child community support worker, counsellor with Digby Mental Health
“Coach, as I still refer to Mr. Chuck Smith, was a very important part of my life from 1985 to 1987. On the night before our 30th YCMHS high school reunion, Mark McMullen and I went to Coach’s house on South East Street to reminisce about our time with Coach. Mark, who is now a doctor at the emergency department in Dartmouth, spoke about how nothing seems to stress him out, compared to the practices we went through in high school.
“Coach instilled an extremely strong work ethic in the players that he coached. We had to keep our marks up, dress appropriately, no smoking and be model students in and out of school...no foolishness! At times he acted as coach, counsellor, father, role model, and friend to his players. I've played several sports throughout my life after high school . . . but there is still only one person I refer to as Coach.”
Matthew Trask, Yarmouth, Executive director of the Yarmouth and Area Chamber of Commerce
“Coach played an important part in my life for years, five days a week, with some of the best friends I have ever had. It makes me proud to see my son playing for him working just as hard. Coach was a father figure to me, and is now to my son Connor.”
Klarke Crosby, Fort McMurray, supply chain for Suncor Energy
“I was coached by Chuck Smith from 1985 to 1988. Chuck Smith changed my life. The hard work ethic to win in a game or, as I know now, life, this was his plan for all people he coached, although we had no idea at the time. I thank him for his dedication to make people strive to be successful in life.”
Scott Murray, Ottawa, Vice-president Health Services for Calian Group Ltd.
“I played 1985-87. Coach was all about excelling at the core skills of the game, instilling in his players the sentiment that the little things matter and anything worth doing was worth doing right. We worked hard and often on those basic skills, but we all saw the results in the end. I worked on my left so much people eventually assumed I was left-handed. It's that attention to detail I remember most from my time with Coach Smith and it's something that has served me well over the years."
Vance Rodney, Yarmouth, A&W franchisee
“I played for Chuck from 1984-1987 on the high school team. He had coached me before at summer camps and practices that he used to have after the regular season was over. For Chuck, basketball was a year-long sport. He would coach anyone anywhere.
“What I enjoyed most about playing for Coach was his love of the game and his players. I really felt like I was part of a family. As for what I learned that I still apply everyday: You can dig a lot deeper than what you think. There is always someone working harder than you to be better. When an obstacle comes up in life, you can either quit and give up or look at it as a challenge and work through it. Chuck used to preach to us that we had to learn the fundamentals of basketball if we wanted to be good. I look at most tasks in life and try to figure out what are its "fundamentals." In other words, what little things do I have to make sure I do, everyday, to get better.”
Amber Andrews, Fredericton, dentist
“I attended all Chuck's camps as a kid and he hired me later on as a coach. I have very fond memories both as a player and as an employee. Coach Smith's love of the game and love of the kids he teaches is truly inspiring. Living in New Brunswick now, I love hearing stories from my nephews about Chuck's camps and sincerely hope my three kids will get to experience the privilege of having Coach Smith teach them a bit about the game and a tonne about learning how to work hard, being on time and respecting the game.”