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Coach Jim Smith’s name was among those synonymous with the revival of high school football in Harford County in the 1950s and 1960s. The longtime former Aberdeen High School football coach, who was later director of parks and recreation for Harford County, died New Year’s Day at Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center in Havre de Grace. He was 85 and had lived in Churchville for many years.

Former colleagues and the son of one of his coaching rivals remembered Coach Smith as a role model and a legend on par with the late Al Cesky who coached football at Bel Air High when Coach Smith was at Aberdeen.

Dave Cesky, Al’s son, said he was very young when his father coached against Coach Smith and though he didn’t have much personal contact with him in those days, the younger Cesky said he learned from his father a lot about Coach Smith’s character and the type of person and coach he was.

“I know when Dad would mention coaches like Jim Smith and [Baltimore City College coach and future NFL general manager] George Young, he always talked about them as being great people, and he constantly mentioned that,” Dave Cesky said.

Dave Cesky, the longtime coach and athletic director at Fallston High School, said he ran into Coach Smith at his place of work later in life.

“He was very nice to me and very complimentary about Dad,” he said.

For two rivals, Dave Cesky said the two coaches were really good friends. Harford County Councilman Richard Slutzky, a former Aberdeen wrestling coach, agreed.

Slutzky said Coach Smith and Mr. Cesky had lived together for awhile before they each had their own families.

“They became rivals for much of their career,” Slutzky said.

Even though Coach Smith had moved on from Aberdeen High two years before he arrived, Slutzky said he knew him for the last 38 years.

“He [Mr. Smith] was the legend of the area,” Slutzky said. “He had been an outstanding and successful coach and teacher.”

Though he was primarily the wrestling coach at Aberdeen, Slutzky was also involved with coaching the JV and varsity football teams and received some pointers from Coach Smith.

“I met with Jim and we spent lunches together,” Slutzky said, adding he also met with Mr. Cesky as well. “They were very helpful to me. They were sharing their knowledge.”

Slutzky said Coach Smith was also very active in veterans’ affairs.

“He knew I spent time in the Marine Corps,” Slutzky said, adding they would see each other at veterans functions.

While Coach Smith was influential in the lives of his former players and students, he also touched the lives of many fellow teachers.

Bob Magee, of Havre de Grace, came to Harford County in 1965 and began teaching at Aberdeen High School around the same time Coach Smith was a teacher and a coach there.

“We have been good friends,” Magee, 68, said. “He was very instrumental in my professional career and getting it off to a start. I admire him for his service to our country and to the kids.”

Magee and Coach Smith’s relationship formed at Aberdeen High, but it continued well after their time there.

“Jim was the ultimate good person, who I highly respected,” Magee, who later became Aberdeen High’s principal and served on the Harford County Board of Education, said. “We remained friends up until his passing.”

Magee recalled the time he spent with his dear friend outside of Aberdeen High School.

“I used to take him out to lunch and we would have a good time talking about the old days,” he said.

Magee said Coach Smith would talk about his former players.

“He was an easy person to be around and we liked to talk and have a good time,” Magee said. “He always liked to talk about his former players and what they did with their lives ... He maintained relationships with these people throughout the years.”

Coach Smith was passionate about teaching and coaching, but he was also enthusiastic about gardening.

“He liked gardening almost anything,” Magee said. “His yard was beautiful and he was always planting flowers.”

The many people whose lives he touched, including Magee, will miss Coach Smith.

“I have never seen anybody with as much respect as Jim has,” he said. “He was truly a good friend and I’ll miss him a lot. We had good times together and we laughed a lot.”

Coach Smith’s Aberdeen High football teams had a record of 101-39-1 in his 15 seasons at the school. In 1995, Coach Smith was inducted into the Maryland Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“I’ve been blessed in my teaching and coaching careers,” Coach Smith told more than 250 friends and former colleagues and players at a banquet in his honor in Aberdeen in 1990. “It’s wonderful to see all that’s happened to the boys I had an association with.”

Though he suffered from respiratory problems in recent years, Coach Smith remained outgoing and gregarious.

James Grieve Smith Sr. was born in Camden, N.J., and grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, where he attended Radnor High School. He played college football at Temple University. He was an Army paratrooper who fought in Europe in World War II. He earned a master’s degree from West Virginia University.

In 1998, at a special ceremony at the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., Coach Smith was awarded the Silver Star for his bravery for saving the life of a comrade in the Battle of the Bulge. He received the award from then-Sen. Robert Dole.

Coach Smith joined the Harford County school system in 1950 at North Harford High School, where he taught physical education and coached four sports. The school didn’t have a football team, so he coached soccer and his teams won several championships. In 1955, he moved to Aberdeen High, where he taught and coached until 1970. He later served as an assistant principal at Edgewood High and then ran the Harford school system’s transportation department until his retirement. He was county parks director in 1981-82. He then worked several years selling and transporting cars at Jones Junction in Benson.

Coach Smith is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Anna Mischkulnig Smith, of Churchville; the two would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in February.

He is also survived by a son, James Grieve Smith Jr. and his wife, Diane P., of Abingdon; two daughters, Allyn Ann Watson, of Churchville, and Susan Smith Hopkins and her husband, Timothy N., of Darlington; seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Services will be today (Jan. 7) at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Churchville at 11 a.m. Interment will be in the adjoining church cemetery.

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