MAXWELL — Just some friendly advice for anyone dealing with Garey Smith of Maxwell: Never, and I mean NEVER, tell him that he can’t accomplish any certain task.
Garey, who retired last year as one of the nation’s most winning basketball coaches when his health forced him to give up a lifetime of coaching young kids, has always lived in a world where he was told he couldn’t do this or couldn’t do that.
A victim of polio before he attended his first day of school, Garey was usually the last kid picked when youths chose up sides on the playground.
“I was too short and chubby,” Smith recalls.
Yet, when he attended Nevada High School, he was able to letter twice in basketball, three times in football and four times in track and another four times in baseball. Along the way he set a school record in the football throw (no longer a track event) and ran on the state-qualifying 2-mile relay team.
He continued his athletic career at Ellsworth Junior College in Iowa Falls, playing quarterback on offense and as a defensive back in football, plus playing basketball and baseball at the college.
Things weren’t always easy, trying to work sports, academics and holding down part-time jobs, and he spent some additional time at Marshalltown Junior College, then took classes for a few years at Iowa State. He then transferred to NW Missouri State and got a bachelor’s degree in physical education, social studies and driver’s ed. Later he added a masters in P.E. and driver’s ed.
“When I applied at Iowa State initially, I was told that my grade point average wasn’t good enough to enroll,” Smith recalls. “That’s why I went to Marshalltown, to raise my GPA. I honestly don’t think that Iowa State thought I could raise it, but I did, and they admitted me.”
He continued earning classroom credits while working at Graphic Forms in Nevada and later at the Greater Nevada Recreational Association, working with kids mostly. He coached one of the Nevada Babe Ruth baseball teams. Later, after moving to Cambridge, he started the Ballard Babe Ruth program at Cambridge.
Everywhere he went, he found success.
But Iowa State was expensive, and Smith had to do something because his part-time jobs just weren’t covering the expenses of being a young husband and father. So he looked around and found he could get the education (including books) much cheaper at the smaller Missouri college.
He also coached some AAU basketball and served as a student assistant basketball coach at both Iowa State and at NW Missouri State while he was completing his college degree.
Job with a degree
Upon graduation, he was offered a job teaching drivers’ education and social studies at a small Missouri school (Fairfax). He was given the boys basketball coaching job.
A year later, he added girls basketball to his coaching duties at Fairfax, and was paid $6,000 per year for his teaching and coaching. He stayed at Fairfax from 1975 to 1982. The Fairfax school had no history of success, but within three years he took the girls to a state title and a 27-0 record.
During that time Smith fought for and got federal funding for a new baseball diamond and football practice field, plus tennis courts. He started 5th and 6th grade tournaments to raise money for more improvements, and put on clinics for umpires and basketball and baseball coaches.
“We had a new principal that last year,” Smitty said. “He didn’t like sports and tried to get rid of me as a coach because I was too successful. It just so happened that William Penn, one of the top two women’s AIAW basketball programs in the country, had just offered me the women’s basketball coaching job, so when I met with him, he expected me to keep my job at Fairfax with less pay and less coaching, but I pulled out my offer from William Penn and basically told him good bye.”
He left with a 131-18 record coaching the girls and a 73-63 record with the boys, and was the Missouri Coach of the Year not just for his class, but for all classes.
On to William Penn
So Garey, his wife Carole Ann and their children Todd (then age 17), Eric (age 8) and Candi, their infant daughter, relocated back in Iowa, where the family first rented a house in New Sharon so Todd could graduate from a school (North Mahaska) similar in size to the one he was leaving.
After Todd’s high school graduation, the family moved to Oskaloosa where Garey had taken over the William Penn program.
Taking over a program that had been in the national spotlight for several years wasn’t always easy, Smith remembers, but his warm smile and belief in his team soon began a stream of successes in his new venture.
While at William Penn, Smith coached six All Americans, had the conference’s MVP four times, won six conference championships and qualified for five NCAA tournaments. By the time he left William Penn he had amassed 234 wins at the school.
Seeing a better opportunity and a new challenge, he accepted the job as women’s basketball coach at Grand View in Des Moines, a school that had gone from being a two-year college to a four-year school.
Success followed him to Grand View, as he had another eight All Americans (a total of 11 times), one national Player of the Year and 54 all-conference selections. He took Grand View to the nationals 5 times, won three conference championships and three conference tournament titles. He also coached the National Player of the Year, Jen Jorgensen, while at Grandview.
By the time health forced him to resign, Smith had won another 340 games at Grand View. He has been selected to the Hall of Fame as a high school coach in Missouri and again for his coaching efforts at Grand View. The Missouri Hall of Fame honor came after one of his girls teams posted a 27-0 record on their way to a state title.
As his health continued to deteriorate, Smith gave up varsity coaching with 778 career coaching wins.
He credits wife Carole Ann for part of his success. “She’s always helped create a family atmosphere where the players feel like they’re part of a big family,” Smith says.
When asked about her role, Garey’s wife says that “you do what you have to do,” noting that she never thought of doing things any differently, despite the long hours her husband spent in practices, recruiting, the actual games and all the other things associated with a basketball program.
Garey’s love for coaching was passed on down to his sons. Eldest son Todd was his assistant at William Penn for five years and also coached girls basketball at Mound City, Mo., plus added volleyball coaching. Todd also was an assistant at Fort Dodge and at Ottumwa.
One of Todd’s fondest memories was that the ninth grade girls he coached at both Fort Dodge and Ottumwa later qualified for the state tournament when they became seniors.
He is now employed in information technology for the Des Moines Public School system.
Second son Eric spent seven years coaching boys basketball at Alton, Ill., where he won numerous conference titles and took his team to state. He no longer coaches, but continues to teach.
Daughter Candi is married and still lives in Oskaloosa. Her sports exposure has mostly been in tennis.
Smith’s endeavors haven’t been limited to the basketball court. A driver’s education teacher, he started a program to teach people how to teach and start a driver’s education program in their own school. He also served on a board to set up “behind the wheel” certifications and served on the Iowa Driver’s Education board.
He’s also been instrumental in raising money for basketball programs, and when he was in Fairfax he led the drive to get money for new baseball and football practice fields and tennis courts.
Now a substitute teacher at Collins-Maxwell and Colo-NESCO, Smith can’t separate himself completely from coaching despite his mobility problems caused by post-polio. Stairs are a problem for him. Still, he’s an assistant junior high girls basketball coach. “I like the kids,” he says.
So to what does he credit his success?
“To me, success is a choice,” he says. “You can’t worry about yesterday, yesterday’s problems should help you get better today. You need to keep a positive attitude and keep smiling.”