Wednesday, 29 January 2020

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Tourists are Mike Smith’s new students as he farewells Mercury Bay Area School

After more than 45 years as teacher, deputy principal and rugby coach, Mike Smith, or “Smithie” to his friends, has hung up his boots at Mercury Bay Area School, leaving a lasting impact on the staff and the many students and families he has worked with over the years.

After just one day of holiday, Mike has this week started a new adventure, as a driver and tour guide for Coromandel Adventures, showing visitors the amazing sights around the Coromandel Peninsula. Always a people’s person, Mike said there was no way he could simply retire and his new occupation will be the first of many adventures to come. Although, he confesses, it was a little daunting applying for a new job since he had not put together a CV in almost two decades.

Mike was born and raised in Kihikihi, 35km south of Hamilton, and attended school in Te Awamutu. Going on to study education at Waikato University, he graduated in 1973 and landed his first ever teaching role in 1974 at Porirua College. Teaching at such an ethnically diverse school on his first job fast tracked his own learning substantially, he recalls.

After a couple of years in Porirua, Mike went overseas, playing rugby for international senior teams in Australia, the UK and the US. Reflecting, he remembers jogging in Santa Cruz, California, when came across a University of California rugby team. Deciding he could offer some assistance with their skills and team play, he soon became an honorary member, playing and coaching and helping the team to win their university competition two years in a row. He then moved on to Washington DC, where he worked as a security guard at the Australian Embassy and played for a rugby team comprising of representatives from other international rugby nations.
On his return to New Zealand in 1979, Mike took up a teaching role at Melville High School, while also playing rugby for Waikato University. He met his wife, Chrissie, in Hamilton and the couple moved to Kaitaia, staying there for seven years.  While living in the Far North, Mike played rugby for Northland in local competitions as well as facing various international teams on their New Zealand tours, including South Africa, the British and Irish Lions, Australia and France.

Mike and Chrissie and their two young children, Ben and Kirsty, moved to Whitianga in 1986 when Mike took a teaching job at MBAS. During this time, he also played for the Mercury Bay senior rugby team and helped with coaching. The family left Whitianga in 1999 when Mike secured a deputy principal role at Mount Maunganui College, but they were back again in 2003, when Mike returned to MBAS as deputy principal. In the late 2000s, as MBAS grew, principal John Wright, restructured the school to accommodate this growth and Mike became deputy principal of the senior school, a role he has held until his retirement.    

On his return to Whitianga in 2003 Mike was quickly back on the rugby field, playing for the Mercury Bay senior team for many years, including a stint as captain. He also lent a hand coaching the MBAS First XV before eventually being appointed head coach of the team in 2006. A highlight for Mike was when he and fellow coach, Victor McLean, led the MBAS team to victory over Hauraki Plains College to claim the 2010 Coulter Cup. Mike’s team won the cup again in 2014, when they beat Waihi College. 

Under Mike’s direction, MBAS has made it to at least the semi-final stage for the last eight years in the Thames Valley First XV competition. Mike is thrilled to say that his strategy of developing young players over the years has meant at least 90 per cent of the Mercury Bay Senior A team is now regularly made up of old boys from the school.

Away from rugby success, the growth of MBAS and seeing a lot of his students become successful young adults are among Mike’s highlights of his time at the school.

The journey has also had plenty of humour. Mike recalls the late Senior Constable Pat Doak staging a police dog exhibition at MBAS, bringing in Yogi, a champion police dog, to show off his skills. Pat thought it would be good for Mike to act as the “criminal” in the demonstration. He fitted Mike with the protective sleeves required for the role, but unfortunately, he didn’t properly fasten them. When the dog chased and took down Mike the “criminal,” he also helped himself to a piece of Mike’s arm. Pat quickly covered the gaping wound with one of the protectives sleeve so as not to traumatise the kids and rushed Mike away to the local doctors.

It is with both emotion and excitement for the next chapter that Mike says farewell to his time in teaching, but both he and Chrissie are very much looking forward to new challenges and the adventures that no doubt lie ahead.

Pictured: Mike Smith, retired Mercury Bay Area School deputy principal for the senior school.

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