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A Hornet coaching legend

Jim Smith, center, with his children Jamie and Mike. Jim and his late wife Delores were inducted into the Minnesota Girls Gymnastics Association Hall of Fame for their years of coaching the Frazee gymnastics team. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
Frazee gymnastics coach Aimie Erickson and assistant Jim Smith. Smith has coached or assisted the Frazee gymnastics team since 1961. (Pippi Mayfield/Record)2 / 2

Qualifications for the Gymnastics Coaches Hall of Fame include being a high school coach for at least 10 years and being a head coach for at least five years. If any two people would qualify, it's Jim Smith, Frazee, and his late wife, Dolores.

"I didn't think I'd be doing this for 40 years," Smith said Thursday, hours before he was traveling to St. Paul to be inducted into Minnesota Girls Gymnastics Coaches Association Hall of Fame, a part of the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association for Girls Sports.

"It gets in your blood and you hate to let it go," he said.

The Smiths have left a legacy at the Frazee-Vergas School District.

"The amount of respect given to him by former students, former coaches, present coaches, administration -- it's highly unusual to have that much respect from so many people. It takes a unique person," Activities Director Dave Trautman said of Jim.

That respect started in 1961 when the Smiths came to the district, but their journey started about 1,800 miles south of Frazee.

Dolores grew up in Moorhead, where she also earned her physical education teaching degree, and Jim grew up in Arkansas, where he earned his social studies and physical education teaching degrees. They both held teaching jobs before meeting in Douglas, Ariz., where they both taught.

During the summers, they would come back to Moorhead, where Jim was working on his masters degree.

"No one told me about the winters," he said.

The first winter after they were married and moved back to the area permanently, was a bit of a surprise. Looking at the temperature gauge and reading 30 degrees below zero, he said, wasn't exactly what he had signed on for.

"If I could have talked her into it, I would have loaded up the car and left."

Forty years later, "I'm almost acclimatized," he said with a laugh.

In Frazee since 1961, Jim taught social studies and Dolores taught physical education. After four years, he switched to physical education as well, which, he said, is what he had wanted to teach in the first place.

In 1970, the Smiths started the gymnastics program in Frazee. They came prepared to coach basketball, but were told they would be starting this new program. The school bought some equipment, and the Smiths "had no idea what a beam was," he said. "We learned with the kids."

Smith also coached track, football, basketball and "sometimes ventured out into cross country."

The Smiths have achieved 12 consecutive gymnastics Heart of Lakes conference titles, nine trips to state gymnastics competition, and Dolores was a 2002 recipient of the Breaking Barriers Award.

"I really enjoyed coming into work every day -- something always new," he said.

In 1993 Dolores retired from teaching, with Jim following the next year. That certainly hasn't stopped him from coaching though.

"Someone said to me, 'I thought you retired, Smitty?' I thought I had, too."

They officially retired from coaching gymnastics in 1985, but here he still is.

For the past three years, Aimie Erickson has served as head coach, with Smith assisting her. In the past though, the Smiths served as her coach while in high school gymnastics.

"It was a good thing to have him as a coach because I knew his expectations as a coach," she said of the transition.

She also knew he was dedicated to doing what was in the best interest of the kids.

The two coaches have lots of stories to tell and very few arguments.

"I always get the last word in, like with Dolores, 'yes, Amie.'"

At this point, Smith stays clear of the heavy lifting in gymnastics and defines his role as "stay out of Amie's way," he said with a smile.

"He owns the vault," Erickson said.

Now, he owns an award that recognizes his dedication to coaching.

Smith said he's not sure if Erickson nominated him for the award to "either get me out or say thank you for the help."

When it was announced in December that he was being honored, Smith said he was "overwhelmed, completely floored."

"It's pretty amazing at his age that he has stayed so active with our programs and the kids," Trautman said.

"He's brutally honest yet not offensive. He's not playing games, just telling the truth."

Trautman said that's a hard trait to acquire for coaches.

"He's a great guy. That's the best thing to say. He just is."