Swimming And Fun Go Hand-In-Hand For Smith, Olympia’s Swim Coach

By Gail Wood

Mel Smith was talking about one of his favorite subjects – swimming.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Smith said.

Fun and swimming go hand-in-hand for Smith, the Olympia High School swim coach.

On Saturday, the South Sound Relays, Smith’s brainchild, turns 2. It’s a unique meet that involves eight schools and only has relay events.

“We’re excited,” Smith said. “This is the largest field we’ve had in the two-year run. It should be a fun meet.”

Of course it will be fun. It involves swimming. The meet begins at 1 p.m. at Evergreen State College.

Smith, who swam in high school and college in Michigan, began coaching swimming in 1966. After moving to Olympia a few years ago, he, naturally, got involved in swimming here. He’s in his fifth year as Olympia’s coach, leading the Bears girls team to an undefeated season in dual meets last year in the Narrows League.

Besides his involvement as the boys and girls head swim coach, he’s also coaching a masters program that swims on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at the Brigg’s YMCA. The master’s team is for swimmers 20 and older.

“It’s a lifelong sport,” Smith said.

In addition to coaching, Smith also swims, competing in master events.

“I don’t swim as fast as I’d like to, but I still compete,” Smith said. “It’s fun.”

Besides coaching and competing, Smith has found another outlet for swimming – fundraising. Last summer, Smith swam two miles off the shore of Mercer Island, raising $2,735 for the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. He finished in about an hour.

“I’d like to have finished faster,” Smith said. “But at least I finished.”

The eight teams at Saturday’s relays will be Olympia, Capital, North Thurston, River Ridge, Shelton, Aberdeen, Lakes and Central Kitsap.

“It should be intense,” North Thurston swim coach Jak Ayres said.

North Thurston is one of the favorites to win. Central Kitsap, which finished ninth at state last year, will also be swimming for the team title.

“I’ve got a really strong team right now,” Ayres said. “We’ve got a lot of depth and I love to get them all involved.”

North Thurston is 7-0.

The relay meet is a unique format that includes both four-man relays and two-man relays. With the two-man relays, schools can enter three teams, allowing coaches to involve their entire team. Smith said all but River Ridge will have 30-plus swimmers entered in the meet, bringing the total entries to about 240.

“This meet gives a chance to help the South Sound community realize just how many swimmers there are here competing,” Smith said. “It’s an Olympic sport in an Olympic year. We think it’s important to highlight it.”

Next week, Smith and his team will be involved in another big meet. The Bears will swim against crosstown rival Capital. The meet begins at 1 p.m. Saturday at Evergreen.

“It’s the city championship,” Smith said. “It’s going to be fun.”

Of course it’s going to be fun. It’s swimming. Smith’s favorite sport.

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