Story Courtesy of Wittenberg Sports Information Department
The Wittenberg University Department of Athletics lost an unsung hero with the passing of Diving Coach Jim Smith on Tuesday, Feb. 3, after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Smith joined Wittenberg’s swimming and diving coaching staff in 2004, and he quickly became a fixture on the deck of the HPER Center Natatorium. He guided the team’s divers to numerous honors and awards, including Cody Nicely ’07, who earned 2004 North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) Diver of the Year, and Courtney Roth ’08, who earned the same award in both 2006 and 2007.
Smith, who also helped Megan Shubitowski ’08 to a pair of all-conference awards, was named NCAC Men’s Diving Coach of the Year in 2008. In addition, a host of student-athletes set records and scored points for the Tigers in NCAC Championship meets, including divers who often didn’t join the team with much prior experience, including Matt Erenpreiss ’10 and Gus Appenbrink ’12, both of whom earned top-10 finishes by the end of their collegiate careers.
Smith brought years of experience as both a competitor and a coach at the youth club level to Wittenberg. He won two state championships and one runner-up title in his AAU diving career, and he also was an accomplished trampolinist.
Personal achievement and individual accolades were not the focus for Smith, however. He dedicated much of time over the last decade to the Tiger swimming and diving program, which became something of a surrogate family to him.
“Jim was so committed to our program, and he made a tremendous impact upon our divers,” said Wittenberg Swimming and Diving Head Coach Natalie Koukis. “He did so much work and spent so many hours with us, far exceeding any monetary compensation he received. His absence is already being felt.”
A native of the Miami Valley and a resident of Yellow Springs in recent years, Smith’s battle with cancer spanned more than five years. He owned a home improvement company called At Your Service Remodeling, Inc.
As Smith’s illness worsened in recent months, an unlikely Tiger stepped in to continue his tutelage of the team’s divers. Senior Eric Roberts (Willits, Calif./Willits) made an extraordinary return to the pool deck just one month after suffering a frightening injury in the 3-meter competition at the Transylvania University Invitational on Dec. 6 at the University of Kentucky’s Lancaster Aquatic Center in Lexington.
A senior captain and the team’s Most Valuable Diver following each of the last two seasons, Roberts recovered from his injuries in time to accompany the team to Florida for its annual training trip around the New Year’s holiday. Along with longtime Assistant Coach Daneen Maughmer, he now coaches the team’s divers, including freshman Kaitlyn Black (Fort Wayne, Ind./Homestead), who has met the NCAA Division III provisional qualifying standards in both the 1-meter and 3-meter competitions.