Longtime Yarmouth Whitecaps coach retires
Swimming coach Ginny Smith joined local team in early 1970s
As her last meet as coach of the Yarmouth Y Whitecaps swim team was coming up, Ginny
Smith was asked how she expected to feel at the end of that final competition.
What would it be like saying goodbye to something that has been a huge part of her life for more than 45 years?
“I think I’ll be lucky not to cry,” she said. “Everybody on deck is going to know I’m retiring and I’m going to find that very challenging.”
The meet was held July 5 to 8 in Halifax.
How many trips to the city — among other places — did Smith make in four-and-a-half decades of coaching? Too many to count. And while she says she has great memories of travelling with the swimmers, she won’t miss the grind of being on the road for all those weekend meets, arriving home exhausted.
It’s the swimmers themselves she will miss the most, Smith said.
“I love to see them excel and I love to see the beauty of their strokes evolve over time,” she said. “Then to develop that personal relationship.”
Think about it, she said. All those kids who took up competitive swimming at an early age and stuck with it, Smith would coach them for a decade or so. That’s a long time, long enough for her to get to know the swimmers pretty well.
“They get to know me, too. They know how they can get away with things,” she said, laughing.
Smith was not a paid coach. It was as a volunteer that she devoted so much of her time and energy to the Whitecaps.
Originally from Colorado, Smith lived and studied in different places in the U.S. and Canada before coming to Yarmouth County in the early 1970s with her husband, Andy. She quickly became involved in the Whitecaps. Smith recalls approaching Hugh Sproule, CEO of the Yarmouth Y back then, who was coaching the local swim team at the time.
“I went in and introduced myself to Hugh and he said ‘Well, why don’t you come and help me’ (with the team) and the next year he said ‘Well, why don’t you take it over?’”
Smith remembers teams from all over Atlantic Canada coming to Yarmouth to compete.
“I remember one meet called the inter-y meet,” she said. “We had people sleeping in the gym. We had people all over the pool. The gym was not the gym we have now. It was pre-1982, so it was the old (facility). We had people from Maine.”
Yarmouth would get a new YMCA in the early 1980s and Smith recalls taking her swimmers to Church Point to use the pool there while the Yarmouth facility was shut down due to construction.
And for decades, of course, there were all those longer road trips for weekend meets, followed by late Sunday nights when Smith would write up results from the latest competition for the local media.
All that travelling was tiring enough in the best of conditions, but it could be considerably more stressful when the weather was bad. Citing one particular trip, Smith said, “There was nowhere to stop and nowhere to call and we didn’t have cellphones, so I’d follow the big trucks because it was so dangerous to drive and I was just thankful I got home. I don’t miss that.”
As she reflected on her coaching years, Smith said it was great to see her swimmers make their mark in the sport — many of them becoming standout competitors — and she hopes every kid who takes up swimming makes it a lifelong activity, just as she did.
It’s also gratifying, she said, so see former athletes of hers applying what they learned as swimmers — things like self-discipline and a good work ethic — to their adult lives and careers.
Smith also is grateful to those former competitors who returned to the Whitecaps to lend a hand in a coaching capacity.
“I wish I could remember all of them that helped me coach,” she said. “It’s wonderful. I’ve never been in need. There’s always been somebody, and even the coaches that are replacing me now were all swimmers that I had, that I coached.”
Then there are the parents, with whom Smith says she had a great relationship.
“I love the parents,” she said. “The parents have always been very, very supportive. I’ve had so many people — parents — who’ve been on the (Whitecap executive) board who’ve done extraordinary things.”
Ginny Smith at the Yarmouth YMCA, home of the Whitecaps swim team, which Smith coached for four-and-a-half decades. She is now retired. The Whitecaps are planning an event for early August to celebrate Smith’s coaching career.