One of the first staff members to welcome Jerry Smith to Vintage High School in 1976 was Burl Autry, the Crushers’ head football coach.
It was at an orientation meeting for incoming sophomores at Vintage, which was a three-year school at the time.
“You’re a Crusher. There are no other Crushers besides you. We are different than everybody,” Smith vividly recalled Autry saying in his pep talk that day.
“We thought we were really special,” Smith said Sunday, “and it was because of the influence and the guidance of those (coaches). We were Vintage.”
Smith went on to play three sports – soccer, football, baseball – and was not only a standout in each one for the Crushers, but was also involved in campus leadership, serving as associated student body president as a senior. He and so many others in a student leadership class helped with landscaping the campus, as the school was only a few years old at the time.
It was one of the greatest times of Smith’s life – learning about athletics from coaches such as Autry, Les Franco, Clarence Tye, Ted Migdal, Olav Lejnieks and others. It served as a springboard to Smith’s long career in education as a coach, teacher and administrator.
“From the very moment we stepped on that campus … I never thought that anybody was as special as we were. We were the Crushers,” he said.
Smith played football for Autry and Franco. He played baseball for Tye, and soccer for Lejnieks.
“We worshiped the ground those guys walked on when we were there. If Coach Autry or Coach Franco or Coach Tye said something, then that’s what we did,” Smith said.
“I think that experience at Vintage defined my entire career. It led me to what I wanted to do. I kept thinking, ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ like any other 18-year-old kid. I kept thinking, ‘Those (coaches) look like they’re having fun and they’re getting paid to do it.’ That really was the biggest influence of my entire life.”
Smith, a 1979 graduate, plans to talk about those experiences when he is inducted into the Vintage High School Athletic Hall of Fame later this summer. The 1979 VHS Male Athlete of the Year and seven others were selected for this year’s Hall of Fame.
Steve Wallace (Class of 1977), Mike Jarecki (Class of 1979), Adam Housley (Class of 1989), Ryan Steen (Class of 1993), Anna Cmaylo (Class of 2004), Liza Saunders and Marty James are also in the class.
Saunders recently retired after 41 years as Vintage’s head swimming and diving coach. James, who retired on June 4 after 40 years with the Napa Valley Register, is a special category inductee.
The newest class will be introduced at Vintage’s Hall of Fame Game on Friday, Sept. 6, when the Crushers face Acalanes-Lafayette in a nonleague game at 7 p.m. at Napa Memorial Stadium.
A dinner and enshrinement ceremony is on Saturday, Sept. 7 at the Elks Lodge of Napa. Tickets for the event go on sale Aug. 1. More information is available at vintageboosters.com.
The mission of the Vintage Athletic Hall of Fame Foundation, which is now in its seventh year, is to recognize and honor the outstanding achievements of individual athletes, coaches and/or special individuals who have contributed to the development, success, tradition and integrity of VHS athletics.
Individuals may be nominated in one of the three following categories: athlete, coach, or special/other.
The selection committee reviews the submitted nominations and makes its recommendations to the board of directors. The board approves the recommendation.
Smith called his experiences at Vintage very special.
“Those of us that had the opportunity to be at Vintage during that first decade of its existence went through an amazing experience,” he said. “That run between ‘72 and ’82, there were some unbelievable athletes.
“I’m in the same place as Craig Landis and George Moskowite, Mike Hunter, Pat Hodge, Bret Hyatt, and on and on and on. Those are really amazing people, amazing athletes, and all of them went on to do positive things in their life as well. I’m so humbled. This is really, really special to me.”
Smith’s career as an athlete
Smith played forward on the soccer team and second base on the baseball team. He was the kicker on the football team.
As a junior, he was named All-Monticello Empire League, All-Napa County and All-Sac-Joaquin Section in baseball.
He played three sports as a senior. He was the team captain and All-MEL in soccer. He was the kicker and set a school record with a 36-yard field goal for the MEL football champion Crushers. He was named All-MEL and All-County in baseball.
Smith is joined in the 2019 Hall of Fame class by Jarecki, his classmate. They started out playing Fly League and then were teammates at Redwood Junior High and Vintage. They were also teammates on the football and baseball teams at San Francisco State.
“We spent a lot of time together at San Francisco State. Going in at the same time as him is really special for me,” said Smith.
One of Smith’s baseball teammates at SFSU was Mike Hunter, a pitcher and 2017 VHS Hall of Fame inductee.
Smith said his father, Bob Smith, has been the biggest influence in his life. The next is Franco, a former head football coach at Napa and Vintage and a former assistant for the Crushers.
“Les really helped me get back into education and back to Napa with the job at Napa High,” he said. “Guys like that had more influence on my life than anybody would ever know. I owe them a lot. They didn’t know that they were necessarily directing me towards education as my career. But they had a huge, huge influence on it.”
Smith stayed after each Vintage practice was over to work with Tye on his fielding skills, making plays at his position, striving to get more experience, and improving.
“I was a hard worker, and that helped a lot,” said Smith. “Clarence really knew the game. He was really, really hard on us. So going to the next level, you were ready for that next level, and you had some really good fundamentals behind you that a lot of guys didn’t have from their high school experience.
“I wanted to be out there and he would continue to do it. He hit me 100 extra ground balls every single day. He didn’t get paid extra to do that. When he had somebody that loved the game, then he went to work with him. I wanted to get out there. And if you were that kind of guy, he would go out there with you.”
The Class of ’79 was full of great athletes. Mike Landis was inducted into the VHS Hall of Fame in 2014. Other standouts, Smith said, include Lance Dodson, Clint Copelan, Matt Galios, Scott Bassham, Mike Jankiewicz, Steve Seidenberg and Steve Percelay.
“We were a very special class. We won because of guys who could play,” said Smith.
He learned life lessons from his coaches – the most important of which was putting in the hard work.
“If you really want something, and you work hard to do that, it’s possible,” Smith said. “Having the confidence in yourself, and believing in yourself, that can carry through a lot of tough times.”
Two-sport athlete in college
Smith was on the football and baseball teams at San Francisco State from 1979-1983. He was a kicker in football, playing for coach Vic Rowen, and as a second baseman for coach Orrin Freeman in baseball.
Smith was honored as the SFSU Outstanding Physical Education Student of the Year in 1983 and was inducted into the SFSU Athletic Department Hall of Fame in 1992.
Rowen was the Gators’ coach from 1961 to 1989 and was president of the American Football Coaches Association in 1986.
“When I got to San Francisco State, what I found out is that I’ve been really, really coached well,” Smith explained. “You don’t realize that while it’s happening, because you assume everybody’s getting that. But there were a lot of guys at San Francisco State that I was able to play over early in baseball, specifically, because they may have had more athletic talent, but they didn’t know how to play the game, like we’d been taught under Clarence.”
Smith graduated from SFSU with a degree in kinesiology and a minor in biological sciences in 1983. He got his master’s in educational administration in 1987 from the University of San Francisco.
Career in education, coaching background
Smith worked at Napa High from 1984-87, teaching P.E. and biological sciences, and coaching football, wrestling and baseball.
He was the dean of students at Vintage from 1987-88.
He was the principal at Winters High and a district-level administrator for the Winters Joint Unified School District from 1988-2001. He was named as the Yolo County Educational Administrator of the Year in 1991.
Smith was an administrator and principal at Willows High from 2001-2013. He was the Glenn County Administrator of the Year in 2004.
Since 2013, he has been the director of student and family support services in the Washington Unified School District in West Sacramento. He was recognized in 2014 by the California State Senate and Assembly as the Outstanding Administrator in Development of Innovative Intervention Programs for Anti-Bullying, Truancy and Discipline. He was the Yolo County Administrator of the Year in 2017.
He will be retiring on July 31 after 35 years in education.
“I’ve been very blessed. I’ve worked with a lot of great kids and a lot of great teachers. It’s time to ride off into the sunset,” said Smith, 58.
He has remained in baseball, serving as a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros from 1993-2006.
He was an assistant baseball coach at Winters from 1990-2000. He was an assistant football coach at Winters from 1995-2000.
He was the head coach of the Winters Merchants/Tri-County Gamblers from 1986-2011.
He was the head coach of the Winters Merchants when they won the 1999 Joe DiMaggio League state title. He was the Joe DiMaggio League’s Keith Connelly award recipient in 2012.
Smith moved back to Napa five years ago.
He has three children, Kannon Smith, 32, Kaplan Smith, 29, and Rylee Smith, 22, and three grandchildren, Rori Smith, 5, Remy Smith, 3, and Emme Smith, 1.
Kannon Smith and Rylee Smith will be the presenters for their dad.
“My kids, being raised in Winters and Willows, they’ve heard about Vintage all those years. Now they’ll get to see it. I feel very blessed,” Jerry Smith said.
“It’s going to be emotional for me. Looking out there, I will know some of the faces for sure, and I’m hoping that some of my teammates will be there.
“It means a lot to me. I always will bleed burgundy and gold, that’s for sure.”