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Celebration of Life for Smith
Longtime Delta College track and field coach Merv Smith, who passed away on Dec. 21, will be honored at a memorial at 2 p.m. on Feb. 15 at Blanchard Gym on the Delta campus.CALIXTRO ROMIAS/The Record
By Bob Highfill February 04, 2014 Record Sports Editor February 04, 2014 12:00 AM
Merv Smith produced successful athletes on the track and successful people in life. His impact will be celebrated at 2 p.m. on Feb. 15 in Blanchard Gym at Delta College, where he spent 27 years of an accomplished career that included stints at Lodi High, San Jose State and Yuba College. Smith died on Dec. 21 in Darby, Mont., where he spent his retirement. He was 76. In 2010, Delta College dedicated its track facility atDeRicco Field in his honor. Smith retired from Delta in the spring of 1997 and said in a Record article, "I've had a great run with the athletes and staff I worked with. When it comes to your last meet, it's kind of sad to know you won't be there anymore, but you look back and treasure the relationships you've built with the athletes and other coaches." Many of those relationships were deep and longlasting. "I picked up a lot of coaching knowledge from Merv," said Dick Cristofani, who coached at Cosumnes River College. "He treated each and every one of his athletes as unique individuals. He set goals for them all. He persuaded them to believe in their own personal worth and ability. He was a pursuer of excellence and no one was left out."
Smith's son, Todd Raymond Smith, remembered how his father cheered for one of his runners who had been lapped along with two others during an invitational at Sacramento's Hughes Stadium. Though the fans were mostly silent as they waited for the three runners to cross the finish line, Smith urged his competitor to continue like he was battling for first place. As the runners headed toward the finish line, the crowd rose to its feet. When Smith's runner crossed ahead of the other two with a personal-best time, "My father hopped the railing and ran onto the track with a huge smile to congratulate his athlete," Todd said. "I'll never forget that memory." Todd and his sister, Shawne, frequently accompanied their father at the Delta track, and later attended Tokay and Lincoln high schools, respectively.
Smith graduated from Modesto High, Modesto Junior College and San Jose State, where he competed in track and field and football. He was a sprinter, jumper and thrower, and a decathlete.
Smith went on to earn a master's degree in clinical sports psychology from John F. Kennedy University in Campbell. Smith started the cross country program at Lodi and also coached football and track. He later was an assistant at Yuba College and San Jose State under Lloyd Winters and helped coach Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Lee Evans for the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. At Yuba College, he not only coached but also was the faculty advisor for the Black Student Union.
Smith's teams at Delta won seven cross country league championships, four Northern California cross country championships, three Northern California track championships, and he coached 15 state individual champions and one junior international champion in the steeplechase.
He consulted for the St. Thomas Olympic track team, established numerous running camps, helped draft California's first Track and Community College Athletic Code of Conduct, was a four-time meet director for the NorCal Championships and was a member of the California College Track and Field Coaches Association for 13 years.
San Joaquin Delta College