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Coach Smith has left the building

The phalanx of administrators, fellow teachers, staff members and students stretched along the side of the Bowen building on the North campus of Woodstock Academy recently.

All were in attendance for one thing; to wish Greg Smith well.

The veteran educator and coach spent his last day on the job on Jan. 19.

His last 30 years have been spent serving the students of Woodstock Academy both in the classroom and on the sidelines.

“The whole last few weeks have been surreal, just the memories that come flooding back. People that I haven’t talked to in years, if not decades, are reaching out. You don’t think about these people for so long and then, they come back into your life and so do all the memories. Talking to the kids that I have currently have about what the Academy was like and how it has changed. It was surreal, it was cathartic,” Smith said prior to taking a well-deserved vacation trip to Mexico.

He had been a social studies teacher.

That did not change.

But his place on the sidelines was much more dynamic.

He was an assistant coach for the football and soccer programs, head basketball coach, the head coach of tennis and baseball and an assistant for outdoor track and lacrosse.

He hung up the coaching sneakers in 2015 but didn’t give up his love of athletics. He was color commentator on the school’s athletic broadcasts since 2017.

“I’m going to miss being part of something that is bigger than myself, whether that is in the classroom or on the playing surfaces. When you are the coach, you make the team, you create something out of nothing and, hopefully, guide it in a direction that is positive for everyone involved,” Smith said.

There was no bigger positive than 2013.

That was when Woodstock Academy surprised much of the state with a 52-49 win over Trinity Catholic in the Class L boys basketball state championship game at the Mohegan Sun.

Smith was at the helm.

“It was a bunch of local kids from this area who showed they could really rise to that level, playing against teams that did not know we existed. We played against teams with top players from outside of Connecticut, taking trains in from New York but we had this charisma and connection. It was just beautiful. Greg always knew that they would win and, most of the time, they always knew they were going to win,” said Woodstock Academy associate head of school Holly Singleton.

Those thoughts were echoed by the person who took the journey alongside Smith, assistant coach Mike Bourgeois.

“(Smith) definitely loved the kids, tried to motivate them, that was more important to him than X’s and O’s,” he said. “There was always a positive vibe even if it seemed unrealistic or unbelievable, it was always, you can do this. We will do this. It was always, ‘When we go out on the floor and win tonight,’ it was never an if.”

A little optimistic?

At times, maybe.

But it did pay a big dividend in 2013.

“If you coach long enough,you have magical times, but that was the whole year. Everything that happened, seemed to happen for a reason. Losing to Windham on a last-second shot from the volleyball line; losing to New London in the (Eastern Connecticut Conference) tournament – both those losses came at the perfect time to make us better,” Smith said. “Those losses proved to us we can’t play another team’s game- we had to play our game. If we try and go up-and-down with New London, we would end up on the short end. We had to dominate play and show other teams that this is how the game will be played. Trinity Catholic was averaging 78 points a game, we held them to 49. We did our job.”

Those memories all came back when the team was inducted into the Woodstock Academy Alumni Athletic Association Hall of Fame this past fall.

“Just to see (the players) again, all looked like they were in great shape and could go out and play. The smiles on their faces and how much they loved each other and continue to do so- it’s magical,” Smith said.

It’s what Smith had prospered doing throughout his career.

“It’s what was most important to Greg – relationships with students. Whether he was teaching or coaching, I think he actually saw the value with relationships with students before it was the buzz word and the cool thing to do. That really was his super-power. He could connect with just about any kid here,” Singleton said.

There were other highlights.

He remembered the football team’s win over Putnam, its first since the resumption of the of the football program and its unlikely win over Jemal Davis and Norwich Free Academy on Halloween in Norwich.

“We walked in there(prior to the game) and (NFA) had a banner on the back wall of the gym that said,’Congratulations on your Homecoming win.’ That didn’t go over too well,” Smith said.

Gary Brine, Bourgeois, Mike Lunt, Bob Derrico, Chris Sheehan, John Stringer, Bill Barker and Rob Mileski.

Coaches Smith looked up to and admired.

“I learned so much from each and every one of them. It’s one of the reasons I was a good basketball coach was because of everything I learned from everyone else,” Smith said.

He lived and breathed and wore Woodstock Academy, literally, on his sleeve.

His wardrobe was similar to that of Singleton; everything blue and gold with the WA logo.

It all means there is one thing he will have to get used to.


“Turning off the alarms on my phone was a very nice feeling. I don’t have to turn them back on,” Smith said.