Hall of Fame honors for Smrekar

Ely native to be honored by Cambridge-Isanti, where he started and developed high school hockey program during teaching career

by Tom Coombe
Bill Smrekar was the first high school hockey coach at Cambridge-Isanti.
This weekend, the Ely native will become part of the first group to be inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame.
Smrekar is one of six people - all “Cambridge-Istanti High School Legends” - that will be inducted at a ceremony on Saturday night.
A spot in the Bluejacket Hall of Fame seems a fitting cap for Smrekar, who spent his entire teaching and coaching career at Cambridge including 22 seasons behind the bench with the school’s hockey program.
“It’s very humbling,” Smrekar said earlier this week by phone. “When you start out with something as sort of a project and passion, you don’t look for any accolades. You do it for the passion you have for the game.”
A 1963 Ely Memorial High School graduate who went on to play college hockey at Bemidji State, Smrekar nurtured the hockey program at Cambridge-Isanti, where he started teaching health, physical education and driver’s education in 1971.
After several years developing a youth program, he was tapped to lead the high school hockey team in 1981 and built it from scratch.
In 1992, Smrekar was named section coach of the year and guided his Bluejackets to an appearance and a fourth-place finish, in the state’s first-ever Tier II State Tournament.
Smrekar remained behind the bench until his retirement in 2002 and holds a spot in the Minnesota State Hockey Coaches Hall of Fame.
Smrekar said he has fond memories of the “kids you help develop on the ice and help develop character.”
“You give them a tool to work with and hockey seemed to be that tool,” said Smrekar. “Whatever happens as a result of that is the icing on the cake.”
Located north of the Twin Cities, Cambridge evolved during Smrekar’s three decades-plus in the classroom.
Graduating classes had about 150 students when Smrekar started teaching while C-I boasts classes of around 400 students today and is in the state’s largest enrollment division for most prep sports.
With his late wife Patty, Smrekar raised three boys: Tom, 51; Ron, 48; and Todd, 46.
“It was a smaller community and a good place to raise kids,” Smrekar said of the Cambridge area. “It’s a good location too. On the north side of the Twin Cities it was still an easy jaunt to Ely.”
Smrekar, who still resides in the Cambridge area with his second wife Barbara, was involved with girls youth hockey for several years after he retired and remains actively involved with his family - now enjoying his grandchildren’s athletic endeavors.