The accomplishments and accolades the Smith family continues to collect and the success they continue to lead Brainerd Warriors teams toward is inspiring.
A son and a granddaughter are already in the Warrior Athletic Hall of Fame. More are sure to join them. Four Smiths have been Brainerd Athletes of the Year and there are two granddaughters making the case to add to that list. With respect to other candidates, it can be argued they are the first family of Brainerd Warrior athletics.
The Smiths’ patriarch is Pat. He and his wife Shirley are both retired, but too busy traveling to sporting events to settle down. Pat, a former water consultant at Culligan Soft Water Co., did take time away from his travels to talk about his family, Warrior athletics and much more.
Q: People who don’t know you might be wondering why you’re the subject of an in-depth Q&A. Most might know your son Sandy played high-level hockey or Tom and P.J. played college football at St. Cloud State, but even more impressive might be the accomplishments of your grandkids. Can you list some?
PS: It’s a rather long answer as we have six children and 16 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren so there is a lot of pride in all of them, but more to the fact that they all have been involved in the community and the community of the school and take pride in the area and representing not only the school, but the Brainerd lakes area. And, of course, for Shirley and I to have so many of them as adults return to the area and continue to contribute.
Q: You recently had Thanksgiving and Christmas. What is a Smith holiday celebration like? I imagine there’s a lot of competitiveness, sports talk and bloody noses from roughhousing. Am I close or is it just the opposite?
PS: As youngsters, they enjoyed some roughhousing and competitiveness and there are a few of them that don’t have their own front teeth, but for the most part they all just enjoy being together.
Q: Between football, soccer, hockey, track and field and whatever other activities your grandchildren and children were involved in, you and your wife have put on a lot of miles going to sporting events. Is there a place in Minnesota you haven’t been to?
PS: We have covered a lot of Minnesota and following P.J. and Tommy in football at St. Cloud State we did see a lot of the Midwest, but it was fun watching the two of them on the same team. At times we traveled with Bill Selisker, an old grade school friend from St. Francis School back in the ‘40s, and many other old, but fun friends, to finally traveling with our own kids to watch grandkids. We oftentimes recall traveling to Hibbing to watch the Warriors play football on a Friday night and then hot-footing it to Vermilion, S.D., to see St. Cloud State vs. The University of South Dakota on Saturday afternoon.
Q: What is your favorite town to visit before going to a sporting event?
PS: We would agree that Bemidji has become one of our favorites mostly because of a fun bistro where we can oftentimes meet up with other fans. Plus, the fact that we get to see our granddaughter Ally and our grandson Jacob, who is a professor at the college and a former athlete at Sauk Rapids. On the college front, Madison, Wisconsin, is a fun place with wild fans, as is Duluth.
Q: What is the one road trip you and your wife dread and why?
PS: St. Cloud is one of our least favorites as our son P.J. received a serious injury there and had surgery on his collar bone during his junior year and we were also challenged by some St. Cloud fans one year. As we grow more mature, any location in the Twin Cities no longer thrills us.
Q: Do you have any pre-game rituals? Something you do before watching one of your grandchildren compete?
PS: I don’t know if it is a ritual, but we enjoy getting together with the parents of the players before the local games and truly miss the days when the Sports Boosters would host a get-together at the local Elks Club after the home football games and the coaches would oftentimes drop by. It was always a fun time with local friends and fans. And of course, my wife says the Rosary.
Q: When your children were going through the school system there wasn’t a soccer program. How long did it take you before you understood the game or is it similar enough to hockey with the similar principles that it didn’t take you long?
PS: I think we are both trying to understand soccer. We know that the ball in the net is a score, but still don’t get the idea of offside. But worse than that is now we have two grandsons playing lacrosse and that game is a complete mystery to both of us.
Q: Along with Gabbie and Emma still competing in high school, Cole is playing hockey at the University of North Dakota and Allyson is playing soccer at Bemidji. Do you get to a lot of their games, or is travel too much?
PS: We try to get to a couple of Ally and Cole’s games, but don’t travel to road games because oftentimes the college level games conflict in scheduling with the local high school games. Next year, with Ally in soccer and Gabbie playing hockey at Bemidji State we will be able to catch them both on the same day.
Q: Last year’s Brainerd/Little Falls girls hockey team finished second in the Class 2A state tournament. Tell me what it was like watching that team and that experience unfold for those girls.
PS: That tournament was perhaps the highlight of our sports addiction as we had three granddaughters playing, a son coaching, 11 of 15 of our grandkids watching in addition to four generations of our family together.
Q: That has to be one of the highlights for you from a grandparents’ standpoint, but I’m guessing you’ve seen some really great athletic moments. Tell me a few of your favorites.
PS: Oh, boy. I would think that the 1978 regional playoff game between Brainerd and Edina would be a highlight. Also, the season opener between Totino Grace and Brainerd and watching our oldest grandson play in three straight state hockey tournaments for the Hasting Raiders and the section playoff game between Brainerd and Elk River and an exciting football game between St. Cloud State and South Dakota State where both boys made big plays to preserve the victory. It just has been a fun life.
Q: What type of athlete were you growing up? What’s something your grandkids might know about you from an athletic standpoint?
PS: A very average athlete who enjoyed the games tremendously and was blessed to have two older brothers who loved the games greatly. I was so fortunate to grow up in Brainerd at the time I did with the friends I had. I remember well a group of young people huddled around the radio, listening to the Army/Navy football game with Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis and after the game, everybody going out to play tackle football in the snow.
My family moved to Sioux Falls after my eighth grade in school where I was lucky to play for a Midwest powerhouse football team that won 60 straight games.
Q: I hear you were quite the football player and were big into boxing. Is that true?
PS: I enjoyed playing football and enjoyed track and was pretty clumsy at basketball so I took up boxing and found it to be a real lesson in life as you can’t blame a loss on a quarterback having a bad day or the pitcher was off. Boxing is just you and your opponent and if you lose, there is just one person to blame.
Q: Your son Tom was a head football coach at Pequot Lakes and was an assistant in Brainerd and Aitkin. Sandy is an assistant coach on the girls’ hockey team. Even your daughter-in-law Kris is an assistant coach on the track and field teams. When you see them giving back to the athletic community what does that mean to you?
PS: We are proud of the fact our kids are not only giving back to the programs that they were able to enjoy so much, but are giving back to the community in other ways and providing positive influences to the youth of the area.
Q: I don’t know about all your grandchildren, but the majority of them played or are playing three sports. In your opinion, how beneficial is/was that for them?
PS: We both think that being involved in school activities is extremely important in the overall development of young people. First of all, the participation is fun. The friendships made last a lifetime and it certainly is a much better lifestyle and the three-sport athlete certainly learns time management and the ability to focus.
Q: Your family is certainly proof that specializing isn’t a necessity. What are your thoughts on young student-athletes specializing in one or two sports?
PS: If a youngster chooses to be a one or two sports athlete, go for it. The whole idea of high school participation is to have fun and to grow socially and educationally and while the three-sport participant may require a little more focus, it’s the taking part that is important.
Q: What can you say about the athletic opportunities provided to children in the Brainerd area and specifically the Brainerd School District?
PS: We feel that the opportunities offered are absolutely fantastic. The facilities are great. The coaching dedication is top notch. The administration is very supportive and the fans are great. I should tell you that when Shirley and I married, I was a college student and she was employed by Braniff Airlines and by virtue of her employment we could have honeymooned anywhere Braniff flew, including South America. We chose instead to come to Brainerd.