WATERTOWN - “They want me to sum up 47 years in two minutes; okay...here goes.” With his typical Dry-As-The-Sahara Desert humor, Garry Smith began his remarks at the ceremony which was being held to name the swimming and diving facility at Watertown High School after him on November 1. The facility is now known as The Garry Smith Natatorium.
“There are a lot of other things we could be doing right now on a Friday night,” added Smith, to appreciative laughter from the audience in the WHS auditorium, a group which included his family (”which gets together, like, never,” Smith joked), many of his former student-athletes, administrators, politicians and friends, so numerous that movement in the high school entrance hall, where a meet-and-greet was held prior to the formal program, was similar to that in a Metro North train at rush hour.
“I feel great energy in this room,” said Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Rydell Harrison, who served as Master of Ceremonies. “We are here to honor Garry, who has made the world a better place through swimming and diving,” said Dr. Harrison to applause from the audience.
Next to speak was William Donston, Watertown Parks and Recreation Chair, a longtime friend and colleague of Smith who put things in perspective on what Smith has meant not only around the deck of the pool, but in the town as a while.
“Garry’s impact can be judged by a much higher standard than the wins and losses, and there have been a lot of wins, but what he has meant as a human being means so much more,” said Donston.
Next at the mike was Director of Athletics and Activities Paul Catuccio, who has a special connection to Smith in that he once swam for him on the WHS boys’ team.
“I can prove that, because my name is still up there on the record board, and not from 1964,” said Catuccio, getting back at Dr. Harrison’s crack that that was the year Catuccio earned his slot there.
Then Catuccio spoke from his heart.
“Garry, who I’ve been privileged to know for 32 years, is everything you want in a coach. He’s dedicated, he’s smart, he’s honest, he’s committed to youth.
“His caring approach has changed so many lives, including many if not most of here in this auditorium tonight.”
Next up was Watertown Board of Education Chairwoman Leslie Crotty, showing courage by discarding a walker and making her way to the podium; along with State Senator Eric Berthel and State Representative Joe Polletta, they presented visibly-moved Smith with a replica of the permanent plaque which will hang in the pool area.
On February 4, the Naming School Building and Facilities Sub-Committee met to discuss the request after a petition had been filed by 2019 WHS graduate and All-State Diving star Kelsey DeJesus and former WHS coach Mike Magas, and on February 11, it was unanimously approved by the Board of Education.
“This rare honor is in recognition of Mr. Smith’s significant contributions to the Watertown community, his hard work and positive impact on students, his countless volunteer hours and dedication to our youth and his ability to teach life lessons that benefit students inside and outside of the pool,” the Watertown Board of Education said in a statement at the time.”
Then Smith collected himself and took over, showing why he is so widely beloved and just why this evening, as Yogi Berra once said “was made necessary.”
Smith thanked former coaches and mentors Russ Davey and Bill Knox, former WHS Athletic Director, the late June Legge, of whom Smith said, “took a chance on me to coach the girls’ team when she either ran out of qualified candidates or I was the only one who applied for the job!
“She hung in there with me for the first few years when we struggled,” Smith added, before concluding, “let’s wrap this up and have some fun, go get some apple cobbler.”
After a well-deserved standing ovation, the crowd moved outside into the chill air; portable lighting had been set up in the side lot and a giant blue tarp hung over the side of the building.
Dr. Harrison led a ten-second countdown, the tarp slowly but surely revealed the building’s new name in bold, black capital letters: GARRY SMITH NATATORIUM.
Said more than one friend of his too-numerous-to-count friends to a still-stunned Smith: “Glad to see they got your name spelled right with the two ‘R’s’ to warm laughter.
In the end, he may have taken longer than two minutes to get through 47 years, but every second of listening to Garry Smith, not just on his big night, but on any occasion, is more than worth the time.