John Smith's death Wednesday leaves a huge void in the local high school diving world.
Smith, who died of brain cancer, was a longtime diving coach in the county. He leaves behind a legacy of athletes and coaches who looked up to him for guidance and confidence.
"He was like the Vince Lombardi of county diving," Frederick High School athletic director Ed Remus said of Smith. "He graduated from Frederick, so I remember him as a student as well. He was always passionate at what he did, both as a diver and as a coach."
Feeling diving was at the short end of the swimming spectrum, Smith coached the sport he loved so much at numerous county high schools, focusing on the individual athlete as opposed to a specific team.
Longtime friend Tom Van Pelt recalls when he would compete against Smith.
"He was world class," Van Pelt, a coach with Frederick Area Swim Team, said. "He put everything he had into what he did. He had so much passion for the sport."
Val Pelt spoke with Smith a few weeks ago. "He was never down," he said. "He was always in good spirits, stayed positive, a real fighter."
County diving nearly ended a few years ago when school officials considered dropping the sport, citing a lack of numbers locally and on the state level. The decision outraged Smith, as well as other coaches and parents.
A group of supporters lobbied school officials not to end diving. Frederick County Board of Education officials relented, keeping diving intact, as part of the county's athletic program.
"Oh, gosh!...it's such a huge loss," Monocacy Aquatic Club coach Jeb Beaver said. "We've had county athletes go on to college on scholarships, and he's had a lot to do with that. When I competed, I remembered how he coached, motivated people to do their best."
Outside of high school diving, Smith organized Frederick Area Divers, who competed in numerous events across the region. His success as a coach was far-reaching.
"He was such a big influence in my life," said Lydia Lehnert, who's headed to Iowa this fall to continue her diving career. "He's done so much for diving, it's just so hard to hear about this happening."
Lydia's mom, Sandy Lehnert, had lot of praise for Smith.
"I don't think you'll find anyone who was more inspirational than John," she said. "He taught his athletes life lessons, he showed them their strengths and weaknesses, helped them draw strengths from those weaknesses, and made it fun."
"He was always into the sport," Urbana coach Jim Kinsey said. "He fought this disease as long as he could."
For his efforts to promote and keep diving in the county schools, as well as his accomplishments as an athlete, Smith was named to the Frederick County YMCA's Alvin G. Quinn Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.
Smith also loved the trampoline. He coached and participated with his Skyhigh Trampoline Club over the years. Smith and his athletes competed in numerous events on the regional and national levels.
"He was a great role model, he's going to be missed," Sandy Lehnert said.