BERLIN — Remembering a tennis coach and math teacher known for caring more about his students than his lessons, dozens of educators, coaches, former tennis players and students gathered outside the Berlin High School tennis courts for their official dedication as the Rex Smith Memorial Tennis Courts.
"He bled this place and, including the tennis courts, this was home for him. So this treasure is very appropriate for him," said Scott Trevethan, a friend of Smith’s who son was one of his players. He said it was important to Smith that people know the courts are there for all to use and encouraged people to play on them, which a few did after the ceremony.
Smith, who taught and coached at BHS since 1980, passed away on Nov. 7, 2018 after a brief illness, said Math Department Chairperson Eileen Thurston. After spending years lobbying the town to renovate the courts with Trevethan, he was able to spend just one year coaching on them.
"He was sometimes referred to as 'Mr. BHS.' He truly bled redcoat red," said Athletics Director Jeff Mauri. "These courts behind me are a lasting image of the work he put in, as it was he, along with the help of Scott Tevethan and Parks and Rec, who brought this beautiful complex to life.”
Smith wasn’t just known as being a coach who won countless conference titles through his unique ability to transform athletes into tennis players quickly, Mauri said, he also brought his talents across the state. He ran the scoreboards for the tennis team at Central Connecticut State University and brought the Ivan Lendl Adaptive Sports Camp to BHS, a one week free program with over 40 kids signed up through the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain.
"He had an impact on kids that lasted long past their tennis years. Rex worked extremely hard to build a better tennis landscape, not only a Berlin High School, but across the entire state of Connecticut. He ran the CIAC state tournament for many years and he did it with great efficiencies," Mauri said.
Smith’s passion for the people around him will be missed said Thurston, who was his colleague and friend. While he could drive his fellow teachers crazy, they called math papers edited by him “Rexified,” they knew he was always in their corner.
"As a teacher he cared about every single student. His passion was not that they understood all the math, but that they had a successful path that they were going to take in life. He taught a lot more than math, he taught life lessons," she said.
Thurston also saw Smith’s passion for the tennis courts through the daily videos and pictures he would text to her of concrete being poured or himself climbing a ladder to personally put in the light bulbs above them.
"I was asked what would he think of today. I said first of all he would be very angry with me for doing this, because he was a very quiet person. He never really looked for attention. But I think he'd honored and he'd truly be moved by all of you here and by this honor," she said.