Andy Polhamus wrote this in memory of long-time Sparta wrestling supporter, coach, teacher, poet and friend Tom Smith.
Life happens to us all.We make choices in our lives, and they are often made from the influences of strong people that were involved in them..
Tom Smith was one of those influences in my life. He was a man for whom I had great respect. He was NOT always good to me. He once kicked me off a a JV football school bus my sophomore year. He had his reasons and they were valid at the time.
He was also always responsive to situations befitting of his military background. Which is why he was often referred to as “Major” –a rank he achieved while serving our country.
He admonished a fellow wrestler in the wrestling room once who was being disrespectful to the head coach. His handling of the situation was done in a way that would not be well received in today’s society of lienancy and “understanding”.
I found his response to my teammate adequate and appropriate considering that I was being raised by a father that would have handled the same situation in the exact same way.
Coach Smith always chuckled or laughed with his huge shoulders moving in unison with his voice. I distinctly remembered him doing this heartily once during a football practice when the offense ran a reverse. I, being on the scout defense, recognized the play as the running back ran past me with the ball in the other direction. I planted my feet to respond to the sudden change of direction, started to aggressively pursue the runing back while shouting the word “Reverse”.
The only problem with my plan was that Jeff Rasmussen, future Big 10 and Badger offensive lineman, was laying in wait as I made my move. I was able to get “Rev” of the word “Reverse” out before Jeff just absolutely creamed me with a blind-side block. I distinctly remember seeing Coach Smith’s big old shoulders and laughing face framed perfectly in the square of my face mask while I I lay prone on the grass. He laughed so genuinely at the beautiful block that Jeff had administered. He was a man that appreciated things that were done or executed in a perfect manner. He also new that I would get up. Him knowing that I would get up; made me know that I would get up.
He always taught you that you can “get up”.
His sons were/are exceptional athletes and individuals and I had the privilege of calling his youngest, Terry, my freind and teammate. His wife, Mrs. Smith to me, always had a bright and friendly smile for you.
He was my Coach. I have been blessed to have a lot of good ones in my youth. He is the first Westling coach I have lost. Our last interaction was at a dual meet a couple of years ago. Prior to that, it had been years since I had seen him, and yet I will miss him dearly and my eyes well up now as I write this.
He was a man who cared, He was a Coach, Educator. Husband, Father, Grandfather and a Viet Nam Vet. And, what I respected most is that he was an absolute badass who expected your best.
My children will be fortunate to have the same types of influences in their lives.
I raise a glass to Tom Smith tonight because as life happens to us all, so naturally does death. But, death is inevitable, life can be what you make it. Coach Smith did a tremendous job of teaching me that.
It is late and I grow tired trying to communicate this loss with words. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to give some insight on the my wrestling coach that I, and the Sparta community, lost today.