The socially-distanced crowd in the Indian Creek gymnasium on Sunday afternoon represented a mere fraction of the support that the community in and around Trafalgar has shown for Chase Smith over the years.
From now on, though, that support will be on permanent display at the school.
The Chase M. Smith Natatorium was officially dedicated on Sunday, a fitting tribute to a young athlete who has spent nearly his whole life competing for Indian Creek in the water here and the last six years fighting for his life through his five-round battle against cancer.
Brad Smith, who closed the dedication ceremony with an impassioned speech delivered as both Chase’s father and coach, summed up the feelings of everyone in attendance.
“Chase, there is no one that deserves this honor more than you,” he said. “We have had many great swimmers come through our program — and you are all a part of Chase. But Chase, you stand out through your crazy obsession with the sport, your complete devotion to the team, your persistent striving for excellence, your impactful leadership and your continuing fight to beat the odds.”
Local resident Bruce Powell first pitched the idea of honoring 19-year-old Chase in this fashion.
“I just thought that he’s given so much to the school and to the community as a whole that it would be kind of fitting,” Powell said. “He’s kind of lived his life in this pool; it should have his name.”
Powell floated the idea on social media and got several hundred responses before making a proposal to Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson superintendent Tim Edsell and the rest of school board.
Not surprisingly, there was no hesitation from anybody in approving the motion.
“There was 100 percent support from the beginning of the conversation,” Edsell said.
“It’s appropriate given everything,” Indian Creek High School principal Luke Skobel added. “As long as (Chase’s) family has been connected to this school — his grandfather was the principal here, his dad’s been the swim coach for probably 25 years, and then he’s just grown up here and done the entire battle here.”
Smith — who sat front and center at Sunday’s ceremony, flanked by his wife Sadie, his mother Kelli and his father — has been an inspiration to the community since he was first diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma at the age of 13, and they’ve had his back through every round of the fight.
Keynote speaker Tony Young, the executive director of Indiana Swimming, recalled the passion that Chase had for the sport even at a very young age, and the “what’s next?” look on his face every time he got out of the pool after a race.
He also talked about the impact that naming the Indian Creek pool after Smith will have.
“The name up on the wall becomes a legacy,” Young said. “When the doors are closed, when the doors are open, it will always mean the same thing.”
Near the end of his remarks — just before presenting Smith with the annual Gene Lee Award as the Indiana Swimming male athlete of the year — Young noted that he’s often asked if he would want to make a return to coaching at some point.
“Yes,” he said Sunday, “if I could coach Chase Smith.”
Nearly an hour after the ceremony wrapped up, Chase, his wife and his parents were still exchanging embraces and posing for photos with many of the friends and family members that had been in attendance. When he finally had a quiet moment to sit and reflect on the day’s events, Chase spoke about what it all meant to him.
“Having some talks with my dad about what that really means, it’s brought tears to both of our eyes,” he said. “We’ve had late-night talks on school nights that we’ve been like, ‘Oh shoot, we’re going to miss school’ — that’s how late the talks have been … about the goals and the dreams for the program. When I say I’ve grown up in the pool, I’ve spent the night in this pool more times than you can count on your fingers, so to say it’s my second home, it legit is my second home.
To know that the impact that I’ve had in my second home, to be able to have that title now, means the world for sure.”