The Lebanon County sports scene needs more Jerry Hoffsmiths, not less. So it is somehow ironic that the morals, standards and values he brought to the local athletic world are also dragging him away from it.
For the second time in 13 years, Hoffsmith has stepped away from the Palmyra boys’ soccer program. Not long after the end of last season, Hoffsmith resigned as the Cougars’ head coach following another successful campaign.
Hoffsmith had coached Palmyra for three years this time around, after leading the Cougars to a state championship in his first season of varsity head coaching in 2007. As impressive as Hoffsmith’s coaching record was, the impact he had playes was even more so.
“Impacting kids is so important,” said Hoffsmith. “There’s an element a coach can bring to the equation that parents and teachers can’t. There are just so many things that can be learned. When you mold boys, it can give you such a sense of accomplishment. That’s the biggest reason I do it. I share my faith. I want them (his players) to see someone who is far from perfect, but someone trying to do things right. But I always want to remain humble.
“There were people in my life growing up, like my parents, who really instituted things into me, people who influenced me,” continued Hoffsmith. “It’s passing the mantel from one generation to the next. I think so many times how the Xs and Os and the wins can’t trump the most important thing – the impact we have on kids. I think of the importance of the impact that others had on me and I what I believe today.”
Hoffsmith stepped aside following a glorious fall for the Cougars, and he did it at a time when the cupboard was far from bare.
Palmyra went 19-3-2 overall in 2019. The Cougars reached the semifinals of the District Three Class AAA tournament and the quarterfinals of the PIAA postseason.
“We were close,” said Hoffsmith. “Hey, we were a little fish in a big pond. We were eight boys over the AAA (classification) limit. But that’s history. That team was senior-laden, but as we think about moving forward, it’s not going to be rebuilding, it’s going to be reloading. We have some quality kids coming back. They’ll be sitting in a pretty nice position.
“The dynamic of teams and seniors change from year-to-year,” added Hoffsmith. “A new group comes up and takes that leadership role. What’s enjoyable to me is watching these boys develop into young men. It wasn’t perfect, but they did a lot of things well.”
Hoffsmith hesitated noticeably when asked if his stepping away should be considered a resignation or a retirement. He did not rule out the possiblilty of becoming an assistant coach to his soon-to-be-named successor.
“When I started to think about this, I did say there was a chance I’ll come back to help out,” said Hoffsmith, a born-again Christian. “Part of the reason I resigned was my grand-kids would come here, every fall day. It was very reminiscent of when I was a young businessman. It put a hole in my heart in a way. I had to leave to go to practice and they (the grandchildren) were here. You can’t get that time back. You’re consumed with your work, and it has its challenges. I don’t want to lose that opportunity.
“I love the fall. I love that time of the year,” Hoffsmith continued. “When you’re coaching, you’re so in tune with it. It consumes you. While the fall is there, it really isn’t. I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the guys. I’ll really miss that stuff. It really made it hard. I hope I’ll be able to stay involved.”
In 2007, Hoffsmith became what is believed to be the first – and only – coach in the history of Lebanon County sports to lead a team to a state championship in his first year of coaching. Hoffsmith had worked with many of those players previously at different levels, but the Cougars had been a .500 club the year prior.
“It was a total, unconditional buy-in from the players,” said Hoffsmith. “I can still see some certain things that happened that year. It was amazing. We had a lot of blue-collar guys who were totally, totally committed to the program. We had leaders who help people to a higher standard. They knew me from the club level. They knew when I said something I meant it.
Hoffsmith returned to the Cougars’ sideline as their head coach in 2017.
“Gifts that are given truly aren’t our own,” Hoffsmith added. “I understand receiving, but being humble is so important. Talent is God-given, so be thankful. Praise is man-given, so be careful. Conceit is man-given, so be careful. If all parts aren’t doing their jobs, you’re not going to do well and it’s not going to work. That’s how God wants us to be, and Jesus Christ had a servant’s heart.”
Despite his humility and commitment to the overall development of his players, Hoffsmith is also very competitive. In addition, he’s loyal, traditional and passionate.
“What happened was six years ago, (Athletic Director, Weidler) Brian came to me and asked me if I’d be interested in coaching again,” said Hoffsmith, an altruistic entrepreneur. “I was still fairly involved with the company at that point. I told him I would do it. But I wasn’t sure how many years I would do it.
“In 2008, with what happened with the economy, I had to dive back into work,” Hoffsmith continued. “I was in a younger man’s clothes then. But it was a stretch. I had asked my family before, and they gave me their blessings. It was a great group of kids coming up through. But sometimes you’ve got to look at it like, while it’s important to impact other kids’ lives, you’ve also got to focus on yours as well.”
On Thursday, May 7th, the Palmyra school board is expected to act on Weidler’s recommendation for Hoffsmith’s successor.
“Grassroot programs make teams who they are,” said Hoffsmith. “Coaches take kids from different programs and mold them into a team. They (the players) have to believe in something. They have to believe in something that’s bigger than they are. If it’s about you, we’re not going to do anything. We stress excellence. We are what we routinely do. It’s the same in life. If we practice and do our best all the time, we’re never going to shoot under our goals.
“In a way, you’ve got to look at it as a passing of the torch,” concluded Hoffsmith. “It’s not stepping down. As we get older, we learn from life experiences. But we might not have the edge we need. In some ways, I sensed that. I wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be. I’ve always been a firm believer that, if there’s an issue, you talk to the athletic director and then you talk to the coaching staff. I needed to get the opinions of the many. I never wanted to turn a blind eye to anything. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, then we’re going to repeat them. That goes in sports, in history and in life.”
Truer words were never spoken.