By: Sammy Pierre, Multimedia Reporter
It’s a warm Thursday in Quitman, Georgia. It’s not a big crowd but still, parents and friends alike settled into their seats as the referee prepared to blow the whistle.
Joe Smith walked across Paulson Stadium in the Spring of 2022. Fast forward a year later and he finds himself standing pitchside, arms crossed with a whistle around his neck, a long way from home.
Growing up in Camden County, Georgia, Coach Smith always grew up with a passion for soccer, acknowledging the role his parents played.
“Since I was around 6 or 7 my parents always got me into soccer,” Smith said.
He played up until he graduated from Camden County High School. He even received a few offers from smaller schools to play but ultimately decided on going to Georgia Southern.
At GSU, Smith got his degree in Health and Physical Education. Through his classes, he was able to gain valuable experience that helps him everyday at work, ranging anywhere from lesson planning to getting hands-on experience through shadowing.
While in school, he also was given the opportunity to coach. It was his first time, but he volunteered to help out middle schoolers at the local YMCA.
“We had a lot of fun there too,” Smith said with a smile. “They’re the ones that really got me into coaching.”
Smith knew that once he graduated, he would have to find a job where he could coach as well. This led him to Quitman Elementary School and Brooks County High School just a mere 25 minutes outside of Valdosta. Here he was able to find a position as the P.E. teacher at the elementary as well as the high school girls’ soccer coach.
“It’s definitely been a new experience since it’s my first year coaching high school girls,” Smith said. Coach Smith, as his players address him, has enjoyed the new challenge and feels like he can build something here.
The final buzzer on the scoreboard sounded and that was it, the game was over. While showing signs of promise, his team was ultimately unable to beat Irwin County High School.
“If you’re on my soccer team, meet me at the fields now,” Smith yelled into the stands.
Some of his players had begun to leave the post-game huddle a little early for his liking. The coach brought his team to the side fields where he decided some extra sprints could help the group.
“I wasn’t mad that we lost,” Smith said. “I was mad that they gave up.”
In recent years, the girls team has seen a multitude of different coaches. With a tight budget and not many willing to step up to the position, the school was never given much choice in picking who they wanted.
In the previous school year, the job belonged to the high school boys coach, Coach Thomas. This year, it belongs to Smith.
“It’s nice having another coach here because coaching both teams was too much for my first year,” Coach Thomas said.
The pair often spend time together discussing games, watching film and giving pointers to one another.
Smith is grateful for the help but admitted that there are some parts of the job that are not so easy to tackle. After losing a game that he felt should’ve been more evenly matched than what the score suggested, Smith ripped into his team for giving up. Some of the players shed a few tears.
After the game, he admitted to feeling bad about his decision to yell at his players like that.
“It’s something that I’m still learning,” Smith said. “I have to control how I act because I don’t want them to think that’s okay.”
Smith has also dealt with players leaving the team, red card suspensions and the varying characters that can fill a high school locker room. On top of that, he has had to deal with a lack of trust.
“Some of the girls on the team were hesitant at first because I’m just another new coach,” Smith said. “A couple of the seniors on the team have had five coaches in the past four years.”
Smith hopes to be a consistent factor in these kids' lives going forward. Even with other options on the table in Camden County, Smith felt it was right for him to stay in Valdosta, to give the girls some consistency, something he believed would help the girls going forward.
“I don’t want to be another coach that comes in for one year and leaves,” he said.
Smith doesn’t plan to stop here. In the future he sees himself climbing the ranks as an Assistant Principal. After retirement, he hopes to stay involved in soccer through a coaching position at a university.
However, for the near future the coach is focused on the team at hand. After going 0-12 in the year prior, Coach Smith has the Trojans off to a 1-3 start on the season.