January 29, 2023
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Smethport AD Woodring calling it a career | Sports

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When Rick Woodring arrived at Smethport Area High School in the winter of 1976, he only planned on staying one semester.

A transplant from Lawrence County, Woodring took a substitute teaching position through the end of the 1975-76 school year. When fall came around, however, Woodring stayed.

He’d spend another 46 years at Smethport, working with the community’s youth through teaching, coaching and more.

This June, Woodring retired from his adopted school district. After a career that saw him help build a powerful track and field program, coach several sports across different levels and serve as athletic director for 15 years, Woodring settled on a single word to describe his time at Smethport:

THE DAY AFTER Lynn Swan and Terry Bradshaw led the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl X, Woodring started his first job at Smethport.

After graduating from Union High School in New Castle, Woodring attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania, graduating in December of 1975. Smethport subsequently hired him as a “permanent substitute,” and after completing the school year, he returned to school to work toward his permanent teaching certification.

When a position opened at Smethport that fall, however, Woodring took it.

He taught business courses at the high school, and after four years, began coaching junior high girls basketball.

“I really enjoyed it and loved coaching — that’s really why I decided to teach and try that first,” Woodring said. “I always loved school growing up and I loved sports, and it was just a natural gravitation for me.”

After coaching girls and boys basketball, Woodring coached football for 28 years, primarily at the junior high level. He instructed, scouted and became a student of the coaching profession, learning from legends such as Carl DeFillipi, Jim McGuire, Denny Maynard and Ward Baun.

His first love, however, was track and field.

Woodring served as Smethport’s girls track and field coach from 1979-86. After a four-season hiatus, he returned in 1991 as head track and field coach, succeeding longtime coach Warren Semmel.

Joining Bill Stephen — an assistant coach since 1981 — Tony Valenti and Max Simms, Woodring’s staff aimed to build Smethport into a premier program. The Hubbers had seen glimpses of prior success, as the girls won the North Tier League in 1988 and the boys in 1990, but the ‘91 season foreshadowed a dominant stretch for Smethport.

“I saw schools that had strong programs — Clarion, Kane, Bradford, Coudersport,” Woodring said. “I wanted to model our program after them and be successful on a bigger scale than just winning some meets. We worked at developing our program, making it more intensive and selling it to the kids.”

THE SMETHPORT boys repeated as NTL champs in 1993 and, after an 8-1 season in ‘94, went on to win the league 13 years in a row.

As the success accumulated, Woodring and staff continued to push the program’s limits. Goals that had once been pipe dreams for the Hubbers had become commonplace.

From 1951-89, Smethport had produced just four PIAA state medalists. In the 18 ensuing seasons, 19 Hubbers achieved the feat, and Smethport brought home 41 total PIAA medals.

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“We had good athletes over the years, but to reach the level we were hoping to get to, we needed those athletes to buy into the type of training, discipline and commitment that it took to make something special,” Woodring said. “Once you get the kids to really lay it out in practice, good things can happen.”

The boys were District 9 champions in 2002, ‘03 and ‘04. From May 3, 1994 to April 9, 2002, they were unbeaten in dual meets, enjoying a 68-0-1 stretch.

The core staff of Woodring, Stephen, Valenti and Simms stayed together until 2001, when Valenti’s departure coincided with the addition of Kevin Menendez and Bart Simpson. As new assistants came along, they embraced the formula that fueled the program’s success.

“It’s relationships. That’s the most important thing,” Woodring said. “The medals, the trophies, the success? They’re wonderful. They’re great. But there’s something a lot more rewarding and priceless than medals and trophies, and that’s relationships.”

Perhaps the program’s crowning achievement came in 1997, when the Smethport girls won the PIAA team state championship — an unfathomable accomplishment for most District 9 programs, regardless of sport. During Woodring’s tenure, the Hubbers won 10 total gold medals at the state championships.

“If you can get kids out to try, and they have a good experience and feel successful, then that’s what the sport was for,” Woodring said. “It’s not about scholarships; it’s not about medals or championships. It’s about developing character, team respect and individual respect. That’s what we’ve tried to do here.”

Woodring stepped down as head coach after the 2021 season. Under his lead, the boys had posted a 237-45-1 record, and the girls were 180-117-1.

The humble Woodring was adamant about the importance of his assistants, however, who continued to help carry the program forward.

As Simpson departed in 2004, Ryan Yingling came aboard for three seasons. Corey Cochran and Sarah Cheatle joined the staff in 2008 to form the nucleus of the program for the next decade, minus Menendez’s departure in 2011.

While the program has seen some recent coaching turnover, Stephen and Simms remain on the staff today, and new assistants received equally high praise from the program’s former patriarch. Woodring served as an assistant in 2022, overseeing Justin Tanner’s first year as head coach.

“These people all had a passion for the sport and helped significantly to make it grow,” Woodring said. “It wasn’t me, it was all my assistants that built the program. I was just along for the ride.”

Woodring served as Smethport’s athletic director for 15 years. Both of Woodring’s children — Tracy, a 2011 graduate and Ryan, a 2016 alum — ran under his tenure. Coaching the two of them, he said, was his career’s greatest joy.

THOUGH THE 2021-22 school year was Woodring’s last at Smethport, he hopes to stay involved with local athletics in some capacity. Emphasizing his gratitude, Woodring thanked his wife, Cindy, and the countless peers who inspired him over four-plus decades of coaching.

“They’re what taught me how to coach, they were my role models and I couldn’t have possibly had the fun or success our program has had without all these people,” Woodring said. “I’m just really appreciative that the school district has given me the opportunity to teach and coach here. I’m so appreciative of the community for accepting me and treating myself and my family so graciously.”

Forty-six years after his unplanned arrival, Smethport became Woodring’s hardest goodbye.

“I can’t think of anywhere else I would have rather come to and lived,” Woodring said. “I’ve just been blessed, and I mean that.

“Why I ended up here, I don’t know, but I’m so thankful that I did. My whole career has been nothing but a blessing and I don’t take it for granted.”

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