Longtime Yarmouth coach Rich Smith is joined by former players and a four-legged friend Wednesday during a ceremony honoring his 37 years of coaching in the community. Michael Hoffer / The Forecaster

Surrounded by long-grown members of the first team he ever led as well as many others from more recent seasons, praised for his many years of service, all the while keeping a proud eye on his grandchildren, Rich Smith was the center of attention as his longtime coaching commitment to the town of Yarmouth came to an end amid love, celebration and appreciation Wednesday afternoon at Winslow Field.

Smith, best known as the founder of the Yarmouth High girls’ soccer program and its coach for nearly three decades, spent his final day on the sideline Wednesday doing what he’s done so often over the years: leading his squad, in this case, the seventh grade Harrison Middle School girls, to a victory, 2-0, over Mt. Ararat (the team finished the season a 10-0-1).

But moments prior to that contest, all eyes were on Smith (much to his chagrin) as he stood in front of a throng of players past and present as well as others whose lives he touched, as the simple message, “thank you,” was delivered over and over.

“It’s so awesome that people are here recognizing that I’ve been here 37 years,” Smith said. “I started coaching on this field. I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve loved this community. I’m going to miss being out here on a fall afternoon. It’s just been so awesome and so special.”

“I consider it one of the most important blessings of my life that we crossed paths,” said Mike Hagerty, the wildly successful Yarmouth High boys’ soccer varsity coach, who is also a teaching colleague and close friend. “We’re celebrating and thanking Coach Smith for coaching 37 years in Yarmouth. It’s only fitting that it happens on Winslow Field, where it all started and is going to end. No matter what we do today, it isn’t enough to say how much we appreciate you and love you and respect you. We’re sad you won’t be coaching anymore, but you gave so many people here so many amazing memories and you’ve affected the character of so many thousands of people in such positive ways. We’re so grateful you’ve touched all of our lives.”

Yarmouth’s interim athletic director Gary Groves, right, and assistant athletic director/athletic trainer Sarah Holmes present retiring coach Rich Smith with recognition Wednesday. Michael Hoffer / The Forecaster

“He’s cared so much about you and your children and he’s cared so much about this community,” added Yarmouth’s interim athletic director Gary Groves, who once upon a time, played football at the University of Maine with Smith. “(Rich’s) approach to football, his grit, determination and character, sense of competing and wanting to be the best he could be, there’s no question why we’re celebrating him and his incredible career. He’s impacted so many lives. So many people coming out here today speaks for itself. On behalf of the Yarmouth community, on behalf of the administration, all the coaches and the players you’ve worked with, the students you’ve taught, everybody involved, we celebrate you today and say a big thank you.”

Smith grew up in Medford, Massachusetts, where he played football, basketball, baseball and ran track. He played defensive back at the University of Maine in the early 1980s. After graduating, he began teaching at Yarmouth Elementary School and his life soon changed dramatically when he was asked to coach the JV boys’ soccer team.

“I didn’t know anything about soccer like the names of the positions, but the coach heard I was good with kids,” Smith recalls, in an interview with The Forecaster from 2010.

Smith then took over the upstart girls’ soccer program, which became a varsity team in time for the 1987 season.

“(Rich) started the girls’ soccer program here and that couldn’t have been too easy for him or for the girls,” Groves said. “Here’s a football guy who comes in not knowing a lot about soccer, but the girls in the early days saw that Coach became a student of the game. He became one of the all-time top winning coaches in the state of Maine.”

Some of the more recent players Smith has coached were present as well Wednesday. Michael Hoffer / The Forecaster

The Clippers didn’t win a game in 1987, but earned a late-season tie that produced a celebration that Smith said rivaled the championship wins. The victories soon came with abundance and Yarmouth won Class B titles in 1995 and 2003. Smith reached the 200-win plateau in 2010 and bowed out after the 2015 season with 245 victories, three Sportsmanship awards, three regional titles, two state championships and six other trips to the regional final.

Smith, who also coached girls’ and boys’ basketball at Yarmouth as well as middle school track, has served as a longtime teacher at Harrison Middle School in Yarmouth, is the father of three children and now has four grandchildren, with whom he plans to spend more time when he isn’t pursuing his passion of golf.

“I loved the camaraderie and the sportsmanship and teamwork and I will miss it,” said Smith, who went from being a tough football guy to the sentimental type, who wrote poems celebrating his title teams and can’t give a speech without breaking down. “I’ve gone to practice every day since I was a freshman in high school and this is the my last game on this field. There are people here today from my first game, I had a lot of them in school.

“Coaching has been one of the greatest highlights of my life. I loved being out here and I loved the girls. There will be a lot of memories.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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