Former Polson High School softball coach Larry Smith teetered back-and-forth all of last season pondering whether or not to retire.
Smith, who announced his decision last summer to his softball team — the Purple Rain — decided to admit the choice to move on from a program he had been a part of starting as the Pirates’ assistant coach in 1986 and Polson’s head coach in 1988, never got easier.
“I don’t think there was ever a good moment (to decide to retire),” Smith said. “I never had a good feeling about it, but I think last summer was a good time to do it.”
Recognizing his team was loaded with a lot of talent, Smith decided to find his successor. A decision that he admits was never easy to make after being at the helm and one of the main contributors toward building the Polson softball program into a powerhouse.
“I think retiring then was a good time to do it,” Smith admitted. “We had a lot of solid players and great young talent, and whoever was going to step in, it would be a rather comfortable adjustment for them. They could step right in and keep the program rolling.”
Smith, who had plenty of influence in deciding who would replace him, choose former Mission Valley Mariners coach Jamie Hanson as his replacement.
“There were some mixed emotions, and it was hard to let it go,” Smith admitted. “I struggled with that part of it because of the success of the program in the past. I knew what Jamie was capable of doing but it was a tough decision to turn it loose. I had a lot invested in the program and huge finances building the complex and the program. It was hard to decide one way or another but I decided ‘let’s do it now’ because it is a good time, and it’ll be a smoother adjustment for the new person to take over.”
Though Smith was wrestling with a significant decision throughout the entire spring and summer season, it didn’t phase him as he continued to do what he has for the past 33 seasons: coach.
“I tried not to even think about the decision to retire,” Smith said. “I wasn’t about me, it was about the program and the players. I had such a good bunch of student-athletes to work with without distractions. I just stayed committed to coaching and kept on rolling.”
SMITH, WHO was one of the driving forces towards creating an 8U through 18U softball program, knew years ago it would be a necessity if Polson were to compete.
“I knew just by watching players we had playing in high school because they lacked basic skills,” Smith said. “I knew it had to start with the younger programs. We were able to convince the parents to go to fast pitch instead of slow pitch, and the mothers were about getting competitive fast pitch in the summer. Probably the leading mother was Carol Meidinger.”
Meidinger and her husband Rick made a big push for making the Polson Softball Complex come to reality, and that allowed Polson to develop into a softball powerhouse, according to Smith.
As a result of them and several other volunteer parents who put in many hours, there are several championship banners that now hang proudly in the outfield.
Ashley and Kdee Meidinger were two players who benefited from their parents’ vision.
“For me, it was a dream but we made it a reality,” Smith said. “Her two daughters played on the first-ever state championship team in that new complex.”
Smith recalls Rick Meidinger pushing to make the complex even better than the initial plans.
“Rick spearheaded the things with the playing field and practice field,” Smith said. “He just started working one day and said ‘why don’t we just build a four-field complex, and do you think you can round up some of the fathers to volunteer and help gather materials and grants?’ It didn’t cost our taxpayers anything to build.’’
When asked if Smith would consider returning to the softball diamond this summer, he left the door open.
“I may, only if I am needed but if they have it covered, then I’ll just totally step away from it,” Smith said. “I’ll let the new people run it, take it over and run it the way they see fit. It is always tough to get a coach with older kids. If the parents were that concerned and if there were no coach for the team, I would do that.”
For the first time since 1988, the Polson Pirates will prepare to take the field without Larry Smith, who has become known throughout the Mission Valley as “Larry Legend,” as they head into the season-opening game on the road at Corvallis High School April 6.
Now the Jamie Hanson era will begin.