For the last 28 years Ron Quick has made it a point to be there for each and every student who has gone through Smith River Elementary School.

Over the years those efforts have taken him from being just a teacher and coach to becoming an integral part of the Smith River community. For the past couple months, the community has had a chance to give that support right back, and Smith River has come through impressively, engineering a community-wide online voting campaign that has taken Quick from one of 1,000 nominees for US Cellular’s nationwide Most Valuable Coach competition into the final 15.

“It really feels cool to be a part of Mr. Quick being recognized for how good of a coach he is and how good of a person he is,” said Smith River eighth-grader Raymond Endert, who also plays soccer and basketball for Quick. “Every day in our classes the teachers are making sure that one of the first things we do is to vote for Mr. Quick. Some of the teachers have also been passing out fliers to put up around the area to tell people to vote for Mr. Quick.”

Early last week, US Cellular was in town to host a pep rally for Quick, which has continued to add to the buzz around town.

“It has created a lot of excitement with kids,” said Smith River fourth-grade teacher Luis Pelayo, who was also a student of Quick’s before graduating from Smith River in 2005. “I think last week when US Cellular came and they held their rally for him I think that made it even more of a big deal. He isn’t one to want recognition, but I think it is awesome that he is finally being recognized at this level — not just in California but nationally. I think the kids are in agreement that — yes, he should be the most valuable coach.”

With a little less than a week left in the online voting at themostvalublecoach.com, Quick is currently in 14th place in the total vote. Anyone is allowed to vote, as much as one time per day, at themostvalublecoach.com.

Online voting is just one component that will be considered when of the final top three coaches are announced on Nov. 20, along with input from the judges who include NFL receiver Randall Cobb, and WNBA All Star Maya Moore.

For his part, Quick said he couldn’t feel more honored or supported than he already does. Instead, he sees a vote for him as a vote for the students of Smith River.

“It really has been overwhelming. I have always felt like this community is like a family, and I have always felt a part of that, but the love that I have been shown is just unimaginable,” Quick said. “The neat thing for me has been that a lot of people are connecting through social media with some of their classmates from before. I couldn’t be more honored. I know that it has been tough — right now I am in 14th place out of the 15 in the voting — but I would like to try to get as many votes as we can in the last week because the money goes to the kids. That is really what I want — for the kids to have the most that they can have. As far as the honor, I couldn’t be more honored if I won than I am right now. The biggest thing for me is that I get to come to work here every day and that is my true reward. Seeing these kids smile is the biggest reward.”

As a coach, Quick has hammered into his players the importance of respect.

“The first thing is he always stresses sportsmanship,” said Douglas Suzuki, who has served as Quick’s assistant basketball coach for the past 15 years. “He wants to make sure that the kids have a good attitude and reflect well not only the school but on themselves and their families. Second he tries to teach them to make good decisions, not only on the basketball court but in life.”

And it has been those lessons that extend beyond the athletic fields that seem to have had the biggest impact on many of his former students and players lives.

“He looked at us as not just students or athletes, but as human beings and future civic leaders of Smith River and the world,” wrote 2007 Smith River graduate Jamie Ramirez-Mendoza in a letter that was read at Monday’s pep rally at the school. “It was his way of instilling in us the values of respect, humility, and family, which were more important in his practices than shooting drills. And when one of us acted out, he did not lower his standard; on the contrary, he would provide the adequate support, patience, and empowerment to transform us into better athletes and people.”

Many of Quick’s athletes have experience playing youth sports prior to reaching sixth grade, when they are eligible to play on the school teams. Once they are exposed to Quick, however, sports begin to take on a bit of a different meaning.

“Once I came to Smith River I pretty much stopped playing rec sports because I wanted to represent my school in a way that I couldn’t when I was younger,” said Smith River eighth-grader Westyn Fitch, who plays soccer and basketball on Quick’s team. “I have always been involved in sports, but playing school sports and being a part of something bigger is way better.”

Other athletes are getting their first glimpse of team sports at Smith River. Endert said he hadn’t played any sports competitively prior to joining the Smith River soccer team in sixth grade.

“In all the other games I had played winning was the fun thing about it, but with soccer, with Mr. Quick coaching it, even when we lost a couple times in the season it was still really fun to play and to be a part of,” Endert said. “He always found a positive role on things. Even if we missed a lot of shots, he would talk about the ones that we did make and tell us to do more of those. He tells us to do the right thing rather than saying not to do the wrong thing.”

Although Quick has certainly had his fair share of talented teams throughout the years, winning has never been the main focus for the Wildcats’ coach. Instead, Quick said, he sees sports as an opportunity to provide positive influences in the lives of students.

“I think that kids and humans in general need to belong to something, and teams have always been a positive influence in my life, so I want to give that to others. Hopefully every kid will have something, whether it is sports or band or church groups or some way that a kid is touched and they feel a sense of belonging and validation,” Quick said. “My biggest thing I want them to get is a belief in themselves. People believe in them, but they can believe in themselves. Hopefully they also get a sense of duty and service to themselves and to others. We talk a lot about how the main thing that you have in life is probably your name. Your first name represents you and your last name represents your family, and those are precious things that you need to take care of.”

Those important life lessons can only have their full effect, Quick says, if kids trust the messenger.

“There is a saying that kids don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. That is something that has always stuck with me,” Quick said. “If I want to get the most out of a kid, that kid has to know that I believe in them. If they know that I believe in them and their team believes in them then they will do a lot more, and they will give a lot more for the team.”

But building that trust can be more difficult to achieve than it sounds. It takes a concerted effort every day.

“The main thing is to treat everybody equally and not show that you like certain kids better,” Quick said. “From the first kid on the team to the last kid on the team, some people might have better abilities for the sport, but that doesn’t mean that you love them any less. You have to care about and love them all, and you have to show that through your actions. You can’t just say it. Kids are like bank accounts: the more you put into them, the more you get out of them. So it is the little extra things that everybody does here at Smith River that really builds those relationships. That isn’t just me, it is everybody. I am not here right now without everybody around me.”

The extra effort to demonstrate that he cares about the kids is noticed and appreciated by his players.

“He is always there. It is always OK to stop by his room, and he is always saying hi and checking in,” Fitch said. “Any big event not regarding basketball he comes to — even if we don’t ask he will show up. He is always just there for us. He is that teacher and coach that you always know is going to be there. Everybody should have somebody like that.”

One does not have to be an athlete at Smith River to receive that type of treatment from Quick either. Simply being a Wildcat is enough.

Although Quick is being honored as a coach through the national competition, he has just as big of an impact in the lives of the students in his classroom.

“He is like a fixture here at the school, so you kind of just grow up with Mr. Quick regardless of whether you play sports or not,” said Pelayo, who said he didn’t play any school sports while he was a student at Smith River. “I think one of the biggest things that he teaches kids is respect. There is always respect in his classroom and he is an excellent role model of that. In his class I noticed that the kids would easily adapt to that because it was such a big thing that he focused on. You could tell that he really didn’t play favorites — he cared about all the kids and wanted all the kids to be successful whether they play sports or not.”

For Ramirez-Mendoza, who is the first member of his family to attend college and who is currently in graduate school at Harvard, it was the excellence demanded in the classroom that really helped him reach his potential.

“From an early age, he held me to the same high standards in the classroom as he did for me in sports,” Ramirez-Mendoza wrote. “He did not let his students, particularly the low-income scholars of color, slip through the cracks; instead he cared for us enough to be honest with us and push us to our untapped potential. This in turn allowed us to look at school as not just survival but a place for us to truly dream of what we could become and believe in that dream.”

The depth of the relationships that Quick has cultivated don’t happen overnight. They begin to develop well before a student enters his classroom or joins one of his athletic teams.

“Before he was my coach, I saw that he was nice,” said Fitch, who said he saw Quick frequently as a kid while hanging out around the school district offices where his mother works. “He always waved and he never got really mad, even if I was annoying as a little kid. I always knew that he would be a great role model just because of the way he smiled, the way he talked, the way he presented himself, and the way he made the older kids who I always looked up to present themselves.”

Smith River secretary Veda Alvarado, who graduated from Smith River herself in 2004, said her first memories of Quick came when he coached her older brother. Alvarado competed in volleyball, cheer and basketball but was never coached by Quick and only had him as a physical education teacher in school. Still, Alvarado said Quick has been an influential mentor for her.

“Even though he wasn’t my coach he was still very important in my life and he was very involved,” she said. “He knew my older siblings, so he would make sure to get to know you as well. He has always been our No. 1 supporter, and if we have a problem he will always talk to us. So he has always been a coach of life for me. He has always been there.”

Quick said those relationships have become increasingly easier to develop over the years. Many of Quick’s current students and players are the offspring of former Smith River students and players. Over the years, Quick has been invited to lots of birthday parties and weddings of past students, as well as the baptism of future students whose parents he has taught.

“As you teach and coach longer it gets easier because you have already built some of those relationships,” Quick said. “The parents know you more, so you can just continue to build those relationships stronger.”

That certainly seems to be the case for Alvarado. Although the oldest of her two sons is still in fourth grade and too young to play on the schools athletic teams, Alvarado said she is excited for her sons to get to learn from a man she calls a mentor.

“I am really looking forward to having him play for Mr. Quick. It is an opportunity, and it is almost a tradition for Smith River,” Alvarado said. “If you go to Smith River you don’t have the whole experience until you have Mr. Quick.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com

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