OAKDALE -- Gary Smith has heard the phrase "burnout," but after coaching high school athletics for 43 years, he has yet to suffer from it.
"How can you get burnt out if you're doing what you enjoy?" Oakdale High's 68-year-old girls' basketball coach offered. "I became a teacher so I could help kids. Coaching is a lot like teaching, only it takes you out from the classroom."
Few folks in the Stanislaus District are as familiar with the demands and rewards of coaching than Smith. He has coached eight sports at seven schools, starting back in 1967.
To get an idea of his length of service, remember this: Title IX, which requires equal opportunities for boys and girls, was just an idea when Smith blew his first whistle.
"Some schools offered girls' athletics, but they were seen as recreational sports," said Smith, who has spent much of the last four decades in the district. "A big issue at the time was the practice facilities and who got to use them.
"Even after Title IX, it was four or five years before anyone had a sense of the breakthrough for women athletes."
It wasn't long after the passage of Title IX in 1972 that Smith became a girls' basketball coach, and he's piled up nearly 600 wins in 30 years at Ceres, Sonora and Oakdale.
In an era when coaches complain of "burnout," Smith continues to enjoy every day.
"Here's the bottom line," he said. "Practice is the most important part of the game, and so long as I enjoy practice, I'll keep coaching basketball."
Smith made a name for himself in 23 years at Sonora, winning 497 games and 14 Valley Oak League titles. He won a 15th VOL crown in 2006, in his first season at Oakdale.
What separates Smith from many of his peers is that basketball is just one of the many sports he has been coaching. He also led Sonora's football program to a 76-59-1 record in 13 years, including five VOL championships and a Sac-Joaquin Section title in 1995.
That goes with the girls' section basketball titles he won at Sonora in 1986 and 1988.
If there is a common theme through Smith's career, in addition to success, it's his affection for one-school towns. All five public high schools that he has coached at have been the only school in that town.
"I think high school sports mean more in the smaller cities," Smith said. "At Sonora, Oakdale, Calaveras, the football game or basketball game is a sport and a social event.
"You've got the whole town behind one school. The fate of a basketball or football team can boost the town's morale."
Girls or boys, Smith said, it doesn't matter to most folks.
"The girls in Sonora put together a real powerhouse program, and they got everyone excited," Smith recalled. "We drew nice crowds because the girls were playing good ball."
Smith didn't start coaching with a master plan, he simply said yes when opportunities arose to take on a new sport.
"I played football in college and high school, so it was always my first love," he said. "When they needed a basketball coach, or someone for tennis or even gymnastics, I'd do it. I knew a lot about football and basketball, but I had to learn the other ones quickly.
"They got my commitment, though, because it's the only way I know to coach. It can't be something that you do halfway. That's not fair to the kids."