Eaton Rapids football coach goes outside the lines to help kids

Eaton Rapids High School football coach Mike Smith understands that what happens on the playing field is only a very small part of a coach’s job — the true measure of a quality coach is how much he or she cares about student athletes after the final whistle blows.

“As a coach, they need to know that you’re going to be there for them,” said Smith, a veteran coach in his first season as head football coach at Eaton Rapids. “And it’s OK to go out and try your best and fall on your butt. If you tried your best, I’m going to say, ‘Hey, that’s OK — get up and try it again.’”

Smith is a recent recipient of the “Building Leaders” award from WVFN-AM’s “The Drive with Jack Ebling.” The award recognizes Mid-Michigan school employees who have gone above and beyond to help student athletes. MEA and Home Management Company co-sponsor the award.

“When you think about what coaches do, people think of calling plays and all that — they don’t think of the interpersonal relationships,” Ebling said. “In high school, those are so important.”

Smith said he routinely checks up on student athletes’ grades, family situations and living conditions. Helping kids away from the playing field can translate into positive results at game time — and in the classroom, Smith said.

“You can have them for three or four hours, but they still have to go home,” Smith said. “If they’re going home to some kind of dysfunction, and you can help in a small way, then when it’s fourth-and-goal, they’re going to look to you and say, ‘Coach, I’m going to do this.’”

Smith’s commitment to student success has a lasting impact on his former players long after they graduate. That’s evidenced by his often being invited to former players’ weddings, their children’s first communions, and other milestone events generally reserved for family and close friends.

“That’s the cool thing,” Smith said. “That’s when you know you’ve made a difference.”

Click here to listen to the WVFN segment honoring Smith.

To nominate a school employee for the “Building Leaders” award, email David Crim at dcrim@mea.org. Make sure to include in your email a description of the nominee’s efforts on behalf of student athletes.