Brenda Smeltz Kessler and her mother Martha Smeltz read the York Sunday News on Dec. 17, 2006, and saw Perry Motter's submission for a “Memories of the 1970s” article. Motter wrote about hearing “Born to Run” on the radio one morning dedicated to his Spring Grove cross country team that won 100 consecutive league contests and mentioned his surprise that the Rockets' coach, Harry Smeltz Jr., was never elected to the York Area Sports Hall of Fame.
“My mother saw that and she said: 'Yeah, why not?'” Kessler said. “This year, when I saw the application form in the newspaper, I decided to follow through to please my mother and sort of keep his memory going.”
Smeltz Jr., who died in 1988 of a brain tumor at age 39, will join four other men in the Hall of Fame class of 2008 and will be officially enshrined at York Area Sports Night on Jan. 23.
His coaching accomplishments include a 131-20 YCIAA record with 17 Spring Grove teams, 13 YCIAA cross country championships and eight undefeated league seasons. Smeltz took over a team that had won 58 consecutive league meets under Robert Lehr and extended that streak to 100 before a loss to York Suburban in 1976.
Smeltz Jr. had plenty of achievements as a runner, as well. His senior year at Spring Grove, he won the YCIAA cross country championships and set a new county record before leading his team to a PIAA Class B title and finishing 15th in the state individually in 1966.
After four years at Lock Haven University, Smeltz Jr. returned to Spring Grove to take a teaching/coaching position and took over the head-coaching job from Lehr in 1971. He held the position for the rest of his life.
It all left Kessler confident that her brother would get in when she submitted her nomination a few weeks ago.
“I felt like I would be surprised if he did not get in,” Kessler said. “But it didn't matter to me because I knew he wouldn't ask for the acclamation of it. I think he was a great coach. I wasn't able to see him coach much, being a mother in the workforce then, but I do hear feedback from people I see all the time.”
Almost 20 years after her brother's death, Kessler continues to hear those stories today.
“I met with a man at work who was a runner of Harry's,” Kessler said. “He said: 'Oh, he was the one fast out of the gun.' After every practice, the man said, Harry would tell the runners they would run one last lap and tell them if any one of them could beat him, he would give them a ride back to the school in his van.
“And none of them ever could.”
And if Smeltz Jr. could be here for the ceremony?
“I think he would be very humbled,” Kessler said. “He would think that maybe he wasn't deserving. He wouldn't ask for it. It's more us wanting to acknow-
ledge his work and what he meant to all his runners.”
Reach Sean McLernon at 771-2045 or firstname.lastname@example.org.