Cricket: Russell Smith recognised for hard yards

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Whangarei’s Russell Smith is straight to the point when asked why he keeps giving Northland kids the opportunity at sport: “because someone did it for me.”


Smith has been recognised by the New Zealand Secondary Schools Sports Council for his contribution to sport, cricket and rugby over the past 37 years which has seen him influence hundreds of Northland kids.


How someone can give so much time for free across so many years can be hard to comprehend, but not for Smith.


Obviously chuffed with being thanked for his contributions, Smith is not the sort of person who is up for publicity but awards like the NZSSSC one don’t come often.


“I guess when I started to think back as a pupil there were teachers who did it for me,” Smith remembered after being presented the award last week.


“We appreciated what they did for us back then.”


One particular moment about 20 years ago shines through for Smith where he was working on a set of cricket nets on a Sunday afternoon when everyone else seemed to be at the beach.


He and then-sportsmaster Te Wae Piripi were the only two there, with Piripi digging out the long jump pit.


“As we passed he said to me in a rather frustrated tone ‘why do we do it Russell?’, but before I had time to say anything he answered his own question, and he was spot on, ‘I know,’ he said, ‘we do it because someone used to do it for us’.”


For Smith, those who did it for him were George Gardiner and Gordon Harnett – people Smith has fond memories of.


“Harney would pass you in the corridor on Monday morning after a good bowling performance and say ‘hmmm, bowling against the blind were you?'” Smith laughed, adding there was no politically correct rubbish back then. With that said, there’s no doubting the Whangarei Boys’ High School teacher has his heart in the right place.


Having long been known in cricketing circles as a bit of a legend, Smith struggled to think of one particular moment in his time helping out that outweighed the rest.


Something Smith was proud of, though, was his influence he had on cricketers who had gone on to great things such as Dion Nash, Matthew Bell, and a small amount of time spent involved with Tim Southee.


“There’s been a lot of pretty satisfying ones, I don’t like losing. The most satisfaction I get though is these guys who are struggling for numbers and the guys I taught back then, who are getting into their late 40s-early 50s now, are still involved.”


Smith said he could not have done as much as he has if it wasn’t for the support of his wife Viv, his schools, the inspiration provided by his own school coaches years ago and the reaction of the kids who have appreciated it over the years.


With this week being national volunteer week, it is only fitting that Smith be celebrated for his efforts given at no cost over the years.


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