When the stresses of coaching baseball or running an athletic department began to pile on, Havelock High’s Charlie Smith would simply go cut grass at the school’s fields.
"There’s nothing better than to get on a tractor and just get away from it all and be by yourself when things get a bit too hectic," said Smith, who has announced plans to retire at the end of the school year. "That has been enjoyable. I’ll be perfectly happy to get on a mower and cut some (golf) fairways. That would be a perfect job for me right now."
Smith started at Havelock High in 1984. He’s coached football and baseball, managing the baseball team to the 1998 state 3A title, and been athletic director for seven years.
He said he and his wife Jody discussed retirement, and both agreed that the time was right.
"I’m vested with full retirement, and from a financial aspect, I feel like it’s the best thing for me to do," he said. "I can get my retirement check and maybe find another way to increase my income until my wife is eligible for retirement. That’s the main reason."
"Thirty years of it was enjoyable, but I just feel like there’s something else out there. It’s been a little stressful the last couple of years, and I’m just curious to see what else it out there."
He said both his children are grown and moved away, and retirement would allow him more time for visits, time he didn’t always have when coaching.
"It’s going to give us a chance to do some things we haven’t had a chance to do," he said.
Smith started in Havelock in 1984. He played baseball at East Carolina and had just completed graduate school when he was hired to manage the baseball team and be an assistant football coach under Wilbur Sasser with fellow assistant Vaughn Sturm.
"Wilbur and Vaughn were there with open arms," Smith said. "We hit it off right away."
Over the years, Smith has coached some of the best athletes ever to attend Havelock High, like Richard Carter and Everett Hancock, who both signed professional baseball contracts, Ledel George, who set an ACC punt return record while at N.C. State, and Bruce Carter, now playing linebacker with the Dallas Cowboys.
"I was able to talk to him like another son," Smith said of Carter.
Smith left Havelock for an assistant coaching position at East Carolina for a short two years, but returned in 1998. The Rams struggled early in the baseball season with a 7-5 mark, but then won 14 of their next 16 games, including a victory over North Gaston to win the state 3A championship.
"We got on a roll," Smith said. "You just get in a zone and kind of get numb. You get confident that you’re as good as anybody.
"Every day, those guys were just determined not to lose, and they did something amazing that year."
Before his final home game against West Craven three weeks ago, Smith was presented a plaque from the Havelock High Athletic Booster Club commemorating his 300th baseball victory earlier in the season against Washington.
But he said the memories that stand out are the years he coached his son, Chip, who is now in the Navy.
"I didn’t get a chance to do much with him when he was growing up because you’re coaching everybody else’s sons," Smith said. "He played football, basketball and baseball, and did very well. That was fun."
Smith won a state championship as quarterback of Roanoke High School, coached a baseball team to a state title, and also was athletic director as the Rams won back-to-back state football championships.
He said he enjoys seeing former players, such as current Havelock assistants Kenny Frazier and Caleb King, go off to college and return as coaches.
He gave credit to fellow teachers, coaches and school administrators, but he said he would miss the students the most.
"I have a ball with them," he said. "I want them to respect me, but I certainly respect them and want to have good relationships with all the kids, whether they’re athletes or not. I’m going to miss that. I’m going to miss that a bunch."
Smith said he would still attend games at the school, though he said the reactions he’s been getting when telling people of his retirement are rather different.
"When you tell people, it’s almost like you’re dying or moving away," he said. "But this program will always be dear to me. I’ve got a lot of good memories."