The tennis pavilion honors the honorary coach and mentor “Smardy” | news

CADILLAC – Rachel Lepine, a 2007 graduate of Cadillac High School, is a Viking Learning Center teacher and JV tennis coach.

When she stands on the court, she still thinks of her high school dual coach Don Samardich, who passed away three years ago.

“He’s the reason I wanted to be a coach, to continue what he taught me — a kind of net ruthlessness,” she said. “I want to convey that to my players.”

Lepine was a freshman when coach Tim Elenbaas introduced his players to a new volunteer, his friend and retired lawyer Don Samardich.

Her first impression was: Who is this old man? How will he teach me to play tennis?

“He became one of the most important people in my life,” Lepine said. “He was more than a coach. He was a mentor. He taught me to be fearless on the pitch and confident in real life. He was tough and honest but never hurtful.”

Their relationship lasted through college and she relied on his guidance. When she came home at the weekend, “Smardy,” as the players called him, would meet her for lunch.

“We talked about our lives and he gave me wisdom and sound advice,” she said. “He’s helped me through some really tough times when it comes to mental health… and when I needed him, he made it possible. You just felt so safe and loved in his presence. It was an absolute honor to spend as much time with him as I have. We were friends. He was a confidant. I know I wasn’t the only one, everyone loved Smardy and our new coach Brown.”

Every time they said goodbye, Samardich kissed Lepine on the forehead and said, “I love you.”

His goddaughter, Katie McCurdy, noted that he did so “consistently.”

“I felt that this gesture was reserved for family and close friends,” McCurdy said. “What true. It’s just that Don had at least 100 people who fit that category…another fact I discovered at his funeral as many people described his signature farewell ritual.”

Donald Charles Samardich was buried three years ago. After his funeral service, friends and family filled the gym at St Ann School to remember him. There wasn’t enough seating so people leaned against the walls to be there and remember. Laughter shook the room. tears fell. He was a rare man, loved and unforgettable.

“I absolutely loved him,” Caitlin Munch Lengerich said in a phone interview. Lengerich graduated from Michigan State University in 2012 and subsequently. She and her husband have two young children and live in Elkhart, Indiana, where she works as an events planner for companies.

“Smardy was very honest and had no problem telling me when I was awful,” she said. “He pushed me to be a better tennis player and a better person. He had no problem listening to the high school drama. He was always there to give advice… I was so impressed – I tell my husband that. My boys have to play tennis.”

Thanks to Samardich, Lengerich found peace at court during the turbulent high school years. Her parents and grandparents were loving and supportive, but it was Smardy who gave her the confidence to pursue her dreams.

“He said he couldn’t wait to see me get married and have kids,” she added. “But he got sick… and couldn’t make it to our wedding. He died the day I went north for my grandfather’s funeral. He was my other grandfather. I can’t put into words the kind of person Smardy was to me…I loved him…he never saw me get married or have kids and that will always break my heart.

The Don Samardich Tennis Pavilion

In the 1970s, after founding the law firm now known as McCurdy, Wotila and Porteous, Samardich hired Dave McCurdy straight out of law school. In honor of Samardich’s legacy in the community and his influence on CAPS tennis, McCurdy organized friends Tim Elenbaas and Bob VanDellen to help him raise funds for a The Don Samardich Tennis Pavilion.

“I’ve thought about it for a long time,” McCurdy said. “I played tennis on these courts and watched my kids play. There was no place I could escape the sun.”

“Don was great for the kids, for school and even better for the sport,” said Elenbaas, Viking tennis coach for 24 years. “He was a tough competitor, an incredible athlete and he loved the kids… he had a burning desire for those kids to do well. He was tough when they needed it. He wanted them to be successful. Even though his knees were failing and he could barely walk, he would go out on the pitch and show them where to hit the ball.”

“What struck me was that once he started volunteering, he developed a phenomenal trust with these kids,” said VanDellen. “He built relationships where he could help them face challenges, crises and life choices.”

The committee worked with CAPS to get the project approved.

“Dave has worked to ensure that we can honor Don’s legacy not only in the tennis program but also in the community,” said CAPS Superintendent Jennifer Brown. “Don was a very special person in our family. He was a father figure and mentor to Matt and by default to me and our kids. We are overjoyed with the idea of ​​a pavilion in Don’s memory.”

“The excitement and energy Don brought to the tennis courts was infectious for the coaches and players,” said Matt Brown, MTMS director, who coached tennis from 2004 to 2011. “The kids wanted to come out and play tennis and see and talk to Don. He left a huge legacy…in the history books of Cadillac tennis his impact was in mentoring students not just on the courts but in life.” He had intense conversations with children about who they wanted to be and how they could become there. He guided them in decision making on and off the pitches.”

“The most important thing for Don was to coach the game,” said his 56-year-old wife Anita. “He really drilled them and hit them with them. But they wanted to talk to him and they would sit on the bench and he would meet them for coffee or lunch. They would really confide in him… even years later, those kids were at his funeral.”

How to donate

The cost of the 16-by-26-foot structure is $25,000. Four anonymous donors will match any donation up to $12,500.

So the fundraising goal is $12,500 by July 31st.

“We hope to have the tennis courts and pavilion ready this fall,” McCurdy said. “Any donation is appreciated and we intend to have a plaque honoring those who contributed.”

Please donate to: CAPS Tennis Pavilion and mail to: Attention Dave McCurdy, McCurdy, Wotila and Porteous, 120 West Harris St., Cadillac, Michigan 49601

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