Jul. 4—TUPELO — After three-and-a-half decades, Lucas Smith is finally getting out of the pool.
Smith recently decided to retire as Tupelo High School's swimming coach, and will now be an assistant principal at the school. He's left quite the legacy in his wake, having led the Golden Wave boys and girls teams to 22 total state championships in 17 years.
"The hardest part of that is thinking that you're stepping away from something you've been doing for 24, 25 years total," Smith said. "That's been a part of my life for such a long time. Me stepping away, you're stepping away from part of your story. Sometimes it's hard to think about life without swimming."
Smith, 46, first got into swimming as a 10-year-old in Columbus. He went on to swim for the high school there, and then at Delta State. After coaching at Lee Middle School, he took the Tupelo job in 2004.
He's also led the Shockwave swimming program since arriving here, which gave him the unique opportunity to coach and develop his swimmers from a young age.
"That was real fun, watching the kids grow. Some of them have been in the program since they were 5, 6 years old," Smith said.
Under his watch, Tupelo became the premier swimming program in the state. From 2007 to 2019, the boys team won 13-straight state titles.
It was more success than Smith expected to have when he took the job.
"Every year that went by and you did well, you never knew if you were going to get back to that level."
More often than not, Tupelo did. But Smith doesn't try to claim too much credit for the success of Wave swimming.
"I think I played a very small part in the success we've had," he said. "It says a lot about the community support, and the school system, and the parents. The parents here are so strong and encouraging and supportive. It trickles down to the kids being excited.
"And then also, I've gotten to work with Barbara (Aguirre). Barbara's been a big, strong part of what we've done."
Aguirre has been Smith's assistant coach since he arrived.
So why step down now? Well, Smith earned his master's degree a few years ago and wanted to get into administration at some point. When the assistant principal's job came open, he knew it was time to move on.
It was by no means an easy decision.
"I don't know that there's ever a good time to get out," Smith said. "That's why I think this time was when God wanted me to get out. It just presented itself."
Smith was cleaning out his office at the Tupelo Aquatic Center on Friday, and among the items were a bunch of championship trophies clustered on a desk.
Those trophies attest to his legacy at Tupelo — but only part of his legacy. He still hears from former athletes and treasures the connections he's made poolside over the years.
"I want these kids to remember that I loved them," he said, "and that they were important."