OBITUARY: Mike Smith, Coach and Teacher, Mentored and Guided Thousands of Saline Students
Michael Gordon Smith of Ann Arbor died at his home on Friday, June 25, 2021 at the age of 72.
The son of Gordon and Areta (Miller) Smith, Michael was born on January 11, 1949, in Jackson, Mich. He was a 1967 graduate of Napoleon High School and attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1971 with a degree in English and history. Following in his father’s footsteps, Michael pursued a career in education, teaching for 5 years at Grass Lake High School and for 28 years at Saline High School before retiring from the classroom in 2005.
From junior high on, Mike successfully balanced academics and athletics. He participated in football, cross country, basketball, baseball and track. Although he was extremely successful on the basketball court, running became his passion and in many ways was a guiding force throughout his life. After completing his track career at the University of Michigan, Mike channeled his athletic ambitions into coaching and long distance running. He was one of the approximately 150 participants in the inaugural Dexter-Ann Arbor Run, and he completed numerous marathons including the 100th running of the Boston Marathon.
Known as one of the most outstanding and beloved teachers in Saline, “Mr. Smith” guided hundreds of students to become capable writers, and he worked tirelessly to instill a commitment to learning, a love of literature and an ability to think freely and independently. Because of his dedication and hard work, the Advanced Placement U.S. History program at Saline High School was among the most successful in the area.
Mike’s mentorship and guidance of young people carried over from the classroom to the sidewalks and roads of Saline where hundreds of his runners, in both track and cross country, logged thousands of miles as they worked to become successful/dedicated/elite athletes, devoted team members, and most importantly, good people. “Coach” led his teams with integrity, enthusiasm and commitment to both the sport and his runners. Coach created a positive and inclusive culture where young men and women could be part of something that brought out the best in each individual, which included being supportive and responsible to the team. He connected with everyone and shared his belief that, “The person you thought you were is no match for the one you really are.”
Saline runners achieved success at all levels with conference, regional and state championships. Many of his athletes went on to run at universities around the country. Some became teachers and coaches. By far, Mike’s greatest legacy could be traced to the hundreds of student-athletes who incorporated healthy behaviors, a commitment to fitness and a strong work ethic into their daily lives. “Saline CC Forever” was not just a catch phrase but rather a pledge to continue to represent the team, the community, their families and themselves at the highest possible level.
Mike was an avid reader, a life-long learner, a downhill skier, and a dedicated Michigan fan. He valued time with his family and traveling with his wife of 28 years and best friend, Mary. His spirit, poise, charisma, and devotion are legend. His was a race well run. Those who knew him will not forget. Those who loved him will keep him close.
Mike was preceded in death by his father, Gordon, his mother, Areta and his brother-in-law Jack Kaufman. He will always be found in the thoughts of his wife, Mary; his four sisters, Karyn Kaufman, Judy Robinson (Joe), Stephanie Smith (Carmine) and Jill Finch (Roy); his sons, Travis (Ning) and Ryan (Zuzana); his step-daughter Megan Pashnik (Erik); his seven grandchildren – Jasmina, Hunter, Xavier, Mason, Summer, Anne, and Max; and his many nieces and nephews.
At his request there will be no funeral service. Those who wish to leave a memory or tribute may do so on the CaringBridge website: https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/mikesmith21 Donations in Mike’s name can be made to the Coach Smith Scholarship Fund: http://www.friendsofsalinexc.org/donate