Note: June is always a big month around high schools. There is graduation and the end of the scholastic careers for seniors – plus Father’s Day, which is Sunday.
For more than four decades during June, Tom Williams has turned over his column to people from the Ocean City sports community like Stephanie Gaitley, Matt Woolley, Jeff Boyd, Allison Rinck, Doug Colman, the Degenhardt sisters, Chelsea Bruno and Danielle McNally to write about their fathers.
Over the last 20 years a second column has frequently been added for the rest of the Cape-Atlantic League, giving Kylee Watson, Shaune McLaughlin, Erik Geisinger, Mike & Matt Campo, Matt & Ty Coffey, Scott Parker and Pat Holden, among others, a chance to write about their fathers.
You can read 20 years of these Father’s Day salutes HERE.
Yesterday, Owen Ritti of Ocean City wrote about his father, Ed. (You can read it HERE.) Now, Brianna Smith, a two-sport athlete in Mainland’s Class of 2009. writes about her father, Chuck. Brianna graduated from Rutgers, works as a paralegal and is applying to law school. She has also served as an analyst on a few Mainland live football streams.
Chuck Smith has been a head football coach for 13 seasons, the last six at Mainland, his alma mater. His two teams before the pandemic were a combined 18-4. During his seven seasons as the Oakcrest head coach, one of his teams (2010) tied the school record for wins and was the only Oakcrest team to win an NJSIAA playoff game, reaching the South Jersey final.
By BRIANNA SMITH, Guest Columnist
Not too long ago, our family was discussing what each of us would consider our perfect day. And, no surprise, Chuck responded, “I would probably just wake up and go to Mainland – and, hopefully, it’s game day.”
Chuck started teaching and coaching football at Mainland in 1989 and became head coach in 2016. It was a childhood dream of his, growing up in Somers Point. For as long as I can remember our family pretty much revolved around football. We have spent hundreds of nights at the Mustang Corral – in the heat, snow, rain and everything in between. Up until a couple years ago, Thanksgiving always involved a football game, which our extended family also loved to attend. Even though football is technically a fall sport, as a coach and as a family member of one, we know all too well that it really is a year round commitment.
On most days, Chuck wakes up at 3:05 in the morning, works out and heads to Mainland by 5am. Whether in-season or not, he can spend upwards of 12 hours at school, then comes home to wake up and do it all over again. It would be an understatement to say he is extremely regimented and superstitious, and loves routine. He prefers to chew green Trident gum (emphasis on the green). He swipes his deodorant 7 times, and brushes his hair over 7 times – obviously because a touchdown is 6 points, plus the extra point. Once he is officially in season, my mom, my sisters and I know not to mess with his “football mode” superstitions. There have been many over the years, especially during a winning streak. In the past we have had to eat the same meal or wear the same clothes to games, but we all usually just go along with it – anything to help the team.
When I was in middle school, Chuck was a new offensive coordinator and they made the decision to transition from a Delaware Wing-T type of offense to the spread. This meant he had to learn an entirely new system, and if he had to do it, apparently it meant that I did, too. There were many summers while my mom was at work, he would hand me the playbook and say, “you have an hour, and then I am quizzing you.” After the hour was up, he would call out plays and I would have to draw out the formation or he would draw the formation and I would have to tell him what the play was. Depending on how many I got wrong, was how much time I would have to help him with yard work, so you could say I would take it pretty seriously. These summers brought us closer because not only did it help him learn the offense, he was sharing something he loved with me and I started taking pride in watching games and knowing (probably too much) what was going on. To this day, when he and I are watching college or NFL games together, or if he has me watch Mainland game film, he will pause (whether I like it or not) and continue to teach me about the game.
As I got into high school, and as the oldest of three girls, I was the first to experience the dynamic of having my dad teach and coach at the same school I attended. At the time I remember hoping people (other than my friends) wouldn’t even realize we were related, especially with the most common last name. It took basically no time at all before I got the first “Chuck Smith is your dad!?” comment, but it also quickly became clear how loved he was. My sophomore year, I was able to take his Media Production class. On the first project I got a 54, out of a 100. When I asked why, he laughed and said “Bri, you didn’t follow the directions. You know there is no special treatment.” Later that year, he started the radio station “101.7 The Stang” and we got to DJ during our class period. Once again, I inadvertently did not follow directions and played a song that hadn’t been edited yet. At the time the punishment was an hour-long detention after school. So, my first and only detention was from my dad. He has always been a firm believer that it does not matter who you are or who you know, you do not get anything handed to you in life. You have to work hard to get what you want.
We both joke about these stories now, but I realize how much he always believed that respect isn’t given, it is earned. While it was not always easy being “Chuck Smith’s daughter” in high school, I made some of the best memories at Mainland, mostly because I got to share a lot of them with him. My senior year, the football team, including some of my best friends to this day, went undefeated and won the South Jersey Group 4 championship. These memories are something I cherish because not only did I get to experience that season with all of my friends, I got to experience it with my family too. I saw first-hand how much time, commitment and sacrifice went in to achieving the ultimate goal in high school football and how proud I was of him as he got the game ball after the championship game – one of the only times I have ever seen him cry.
When I was in college, he decided to leave Mainland to become the head football coach at Oakcrest. There were a lot of doubters and people did not understand why he would leave a school and a program he loved and that had so much success. The decision was admittedly surprising, but I knew he really wanted to be a head coach and he felt like he was ready for the challenge. I never told him this, but I remember thinking how admirable it was for me, at that time in my life, to watch my parent step out of their comfort zone (pretty far into their career) and make an unpopular choice, but it was one of the best decisions he ever made.
In his first season, Oakcrest won their first ever playoff game and went on to the South Jersey Group 4 Championship game. He became the first CAL coach in 26 years to win nine or more games in his first year as a head coach and went on to win the Edward T. Byrnes Coach of the Year award. However, more important than the success on the field, my family and I had the pleasure of meeting some of the best families and made a lot of great memories during his time there. To this day, he is still very close to a lot of the players he coached (one of them is currently the defensive back coach at Mainland) and when one of them tragically passed away after college, Chuck was the one who was asked to give the eulogy at his funeral.
Now, as a 30 year old, I appreciate our relationship so much more and have come to realize how alike we actually are. Not only do we have the same birthday, but we love seafood, “Call of Duty”, Bruce Springsteen, tequila and arguing about his play calling. He hasn’t called me by the right name since my middle sister, Emma, was born, but he can tell you an entire series of play calls from the 1995 playoff game against Ocean City (its honestly impressive and he might be better at it than Sean McVay). Like any father-daughter relationship, we can banter and butt heads, probably because we are so similar, but ultimately I know how much he loves us and would do anything for my sisters and me. He is always there to offer advice and give us his opinion on any problems we may have.
He always takes the approach of teaching us how to do things, rather than doing it for us. He raised all of us to be strong and independent and loves a good dad quote, like “kill everyone with kindness” or “don’t be cocky, act like you’ve been there before.” While there are many times over the years he has missed our own games and events, due to his coaching obligations, we are well aware of all that goes into his job and how dedicated he is. The three of us know the sacrifices he has made, because of his commitment to his team and the school, but we wouldn’t have it any other way because we know how much it means to him. As we are getting older, football games have become one of the events where our entire family is together, so it’s special for all five of us.
Even as a father of three girls, I would not consider Chuck a “girl dad” because the truth is he has had hundreds of “sons” over the years. One of Mainland’s slogans is, “One Family, One School, One Community” and that is something that Chuck could not exemplify more. And while I do question his play calling, at times, something you cannot question is his work ethic and his dedication to his students and student athletes. He truly loves his team, this school and the people in the community that do so much to support all of it. He takes time out of his weeknights and weekends to attend the youth games in Somers Point, Linwood and Northfield to show support for his future athletes and their families.
Anytime you read his post-game comments in the media it shows just how humble he really is, always deflecting the attention and praise to his staff and the team. Being a coach goes well beyond wins and losses and what happens on the field. Most of the players on the team will not play football after high school so his responsibility as a coach is so much more than just the sport. The number of players, parents and extended members of our community who have shared with me over the years how important he was in their lives, or how he helped them be a better man, person and/or father, is overwhelming. These types of compliments mean more to me because it shows who he is as a human being, not just as a football coach.
So, Charles P., Emma, Dani and I are so proud to be your daughters and watch you be a father figure, leader and mentor to so many others. I know you don’t love the attention, but it’s well deserved. It speaks to who you are as a man that there are so many people outside of your family that love you and attribute their own successes to you. You give so much of yourself to us three, as well as your players, and we couldn’t be happier to share you as a dad. You are the most hard-working, loyal and dedicated man I know and I appreciate you showing me what it truly means to be a good person, and making me almost as good of an offensive coordinator as you. I cannot wait to watch you bring a championship back to Mainland!
And to all the other dads, coaches, or anyone filing that “dad” role, Happy Father’s Day!