HEISER: Herb Schmidt leaves behind a legacy as a York County prep sports institution

Herb Schmidt, center, is shown while being honored with a plaque to commemorate the 60th running of the Herb Schmidt Relays. The event was held at York Suburban High School. Pictured with Schmdt were Josh Leik, left, and Dave Wickenheiser.
  • Herb Schmidt died on Monday at the age of 90.
  • Schmidt coached at both West York and York Suburban high schools.
  • Schmidt was also the longtime executive director of the York-Adams League.
  • Schmidt also served on the PIAA District 3 Committee in various capacities.

The same two phrases, in one form or another, came up time and again on Monday when Herb Schmidt’s name was mentioned.

“A real straight shooter.”

“He always had the best interests of the kids at heart.”

As legacies go, you could do a whole lot worse.

Schmidt, a York County high school sports institution, died on Monday at the age of 90. His death was reported in a statement from PIAA District 3.

Schmidt did just about every high school sports job you can imagine over the past six-plus decades.

He was the first executive director of the York-Adams League, a role he held for many years.

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He coached multiple sports at both West York and York Suburban high schools, mentoring some state championship track-and-field athletes along the way.

He was a PIAA official for both  swimming and track and field.

And for many years, he was member of the PIAA District 3 Committee, serving as the district chairman for both swimming and track and field.

Oh, and one other thing. He was also a pretty fair athlete in his own right during his younger days, winning a 165-pound District 3 wrestling title while at West York in 1948.  

His name is even attached to one of York County’s longest-running athletic events — the Herb Schmidt Relays, which has been around for six decades.

Making an impact: Schmidt started the unusual, relays-only event while at West York.

When he moved on to York Suburban, he continued the annual spring carnival as the York Suburban Relays. A decade ago, the meet was justifiably renamed the Herb Schmidt Relays in his honor.

“He was a demanding coach, a taskmaster, but he produced some great athletes, and the kids responded to him,” said former York Dispatch sports reporter Dick VanO’Linda. “He really loved track and field.

“He was a highly successful coach and then went into administration with the league and district. He had a big impact both as coach and on the administrative side.”

A mentor and a friend: The current executive director of the York-Adams League, Chuck Abbott, remembers Schmidt as a mentor.

“It’s a sad day for the York-Adams League,” Abbott said. “I was taken aback when I received the news. First and foremost, he was a mentor to a lot of athletic directors in our league. He was always a straight shooter. You always knew where he was coming from, but he always put the kids first before anything else.”

Abbott said Schmidt was instrumental in the expansion of the league beyond the borders of York County in the early 1990s, when three Adams County schools were added — Delone Catholic, Littlestown and New Oxford.

“He kept us focused, and he kept the league on the straight and narrow,” Abbott said. “He was just on top of everything. … He had a lot of respect from everyone who came in contact with him. He’ll be missed.”

An asset to the league: One of the men who worked closely with Schmidt over the years was longtime York Suburban athletic director Larry Ludwig. He considered Schmidt not just a colleague but a good friend, as well.

“He coached almost everything,” Ludwig said. “That’s why he was such a good asset for the league. He knew all the sports and all the rules. The principals who run the league always relied on Herb for a lot of advice, and he had no trouble with decision-making. He always put the student-athletes first and was always fair with everyone in the league, but he didn’t fool around. You knew where he was coming from, but everything he did was always best for the kids.

“He was just a very good friend and always a straight shooter. He always told you exactly how he felt.”

Telling the hard truths is an admirable quality, especially when it's done to advance the interests of our young people.

Those who knew him well say it's a quality that Herb Schmidt seemed to have in abundance.

It's a legacy that should live on in the many lives he touched.

— Steve Heiser is sports editor for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@yorkdispatch.com.