Smith says farewell to Gladstone Softball

GLADSTONE – A blanket of winter currently covers the softball field where the Gladstone Braves and manager Gerry Smith ruled the Upper Peninsula and beyond for the last decade.

Now, when the calendar turns to spring, a different coach will be leading Gladstone into a new era.

For the past nine seasons, few things in life have been as constant as the Gladstone Braves winning regional titles and foraging deep into the state tournament. That era ended Friday as Smith announced his resignation, citing family as his primary motivation.

“It’s been a good run,” the veteran coach said. “But it’s time. I have some grandkids coming up who play ball in Wisconsin and it’s been hard to see them play. I just want to spend more time with my family.”

Smith’s career numbers are nothing short of impressive and may be unprecedented in recent state history.

He holds a career record of 234-67 (.777 win percentage) over nine seasons and coached his teams to Division III state titles in 2009 and 2004, a state runner-up in 2012, final four appearances in 2011, 2010, 2008, 2006 and 2003 (Gladstone was Division II in 2003) and nine straight regional titles. (Gladstone’s regional title run stands at 11 and dates back to 2002.)

In his last season, Smith guided Gladstone to a 28-2 record despite losing his entire infield from the previous year.

“It was just an incredible run, and its been one of my most enjoyable experiences as an AD to be part of that program while he’s had it,” said Gladstone Athletic Director Matt Houle. “I have to thank Gerry for all he’s done for the softball program. He’s truly brought it to the heights of being of the best in the state.

“But he did more than just win ball games. He really took care of his kids and taught them a lot about softball and about life. We’ll certainly miss him.”

Some of the players Smith coached went on to postseason honors and college scholarships. Currently, Mackenzie Shepeck is on scholarship at Western Michigan University.

“K.C. Blahnik was also a phenomenal player in college, in softball and in basketball,” Smith added. “I’ve had a lot of good kids throughout the years.

“I had a good staff too. The assistant coaches were phenomenal to work with. Most of the credit goes to the kids and the assistant coaches, and you don’t have the record we had and not have quality players.”

Smith said some of his personal highlights include the state title games and an 18 inning victory over Leroy Pine River in the 2009 state quarterfinal.

“The 18 inning game, that was quite a feat to hang in there and win it,” he said.

Houle said the position has been posted internally, though he acknowledged finding someone to continue the job Smith has done will be difficult.

“Gerry is well respected throughout the state,” said Houle. “The passion he has for the game, we’ll be hard pressed to find that kind of passion. But, he surrounded himself with a lot of good people.

“The position has already been posted internally and we could have a decision as early as next week.”