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Thomas Gerlach Scholarship honors well-known coach

Memorial Fund enters its sixth year

By Ron Scopelliti

Spring is a time for tradition at high schools across the country. Proms, yearbooks, honors night – all the things that lead up to the ultimate high school tradition, the commencement ceremony.

Over the past five years a new, and particularly homegrown, tradition has emerged at Smithfield High School. Since it’s start in 2011, the Thomas Gerlach Memorial Scholarship has put 28, $1,000 scholarships in the hands of graduating student-athletes who are going on to higher education.

The scholarship is named after lifelong Smithfield resident Thomas Gerlach, who grew up in town along with seven siblings, and graduated from Smithfield High School in 1982.

Tom became well known among the parents and participants in Smithfield youth sports, coaching hockey, football, and soccer at various age levels before his untimely death at the age of 46.

After Tom‘s passing, his family and friends decided to perpetuate his legacy in a way that would keep his name closely associated Smithfield’s young athletes, and formed the Thomas Gerlach Memorial Fund.

“Tom passed away Oct. 1, 2010, and we formed the memorial fund soon thereafter,” says Jeff Collins, a member of the board that administers the fund. They gave out their first three scholarships in 2011.

There are a few criteria students must meet to qualify for a scholarship.

“They have to be graduating from Smithfield High School and going on to higher education, having had participated in either a recreational sport in Smithfield or a sport at the high school,” Jeff says.

“They fill out an application and submit a letter, with a letter of recommendation from one of the coaches that they had who mentored them throughout their sports career.”

“It’s not academically-based,” says Kathy Gerlach, Tom’s widow. “It’s more for a student that’s really tried their hardest and participated in sports.”

“We try to put ourselves in Tom’s shoes, and we try and pick recipients that would be the ones that he would pick,” says Jeff.

Tom’s brother Bob Gerlach notes: “A lot of the coaches who submit the nominations actually knew Tom, and they’ll speak about Tom when they write the nominations. They’ll say ‘Oh I remember Tom, and this athlete reminds me of Tom for this reason.’”

Recipients of the 2016 Thomas Gerlach Memorial Scholarship will be announced at the High School’s Honors Night, May 26.

Past recipients of the
Thomas Gerlach Memorial Scholarship

2011
Ryan Paul, Kevin Reall, Kyle Gerlach,
Michael Gaulin, Kayla Tannock.

2012
John Allard, Jeffrey Langellier,
Ryan Malloy,Mallory Poskus.

2013
Louis Catarina, Matthew Mattson,
Michael Paiva, Joshua Peloquin, Kevin Pfefferle,
Angela Ragosta.

2014
Fallon Greene, Pat Simons, Justice Donoyan,
Lauren Paul, Nicholas Paiva, Christopher Cote,
Andrew Davey, Brady Greene.

2015
Stephanie Mattson, Bobby Esposito,
Rachel Balcom, Carlton Eaton, Rebecca Meinhertz

“That’s one side of why the foundation was formed,” Jeff says of the scholarships. “But the other side is essentially to help any of the sports-based programs in town that needed help financially.”

In addition to the $28,000 in scholarships that have been given out, the fund has provided over $11,000 to local youth organizations.

Past recipients of donations include teams from Smithfield High School and Gallagher Middle School, as well as a number of youth sports organizations.

This year, they also expanded their scope by sponsoring local Boy Scouts to travel to a ranch in New Mexico and practice their outdoor skills.

The group, which is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, holds a major fundraiser annually – a steak-fry at the Portuguese-American Club in Georgiaville that traces it’s roots back to the organization’s first year.

“We weren’t sure what we wanted to do as a fundraiser,” Kathy says, “so we decided to have this at the last minute and it’s worked out great, so we kept going with it.”

This year’s steak fry will take place June 18 at 6 p.m. Donations are $30 per person.

The group also gets support from Tom’s former employer, Boyle and Fogarty Construction, which has been a primary sponsor of the fund since its inception. The company has a fundraiser each year at its Christmas party.

“They’ve supported this effort since day one,” says Bob.

In addition, friends of the fund have created a weekly horseshoe league that has been meeting for three years, with players contributing to the fund.

Many donors are simply people who knew Tom, and remember him fondly.

“He was interested in developing all players, regardless of their ability, who wanted to come and participate and play,” Jeff says. “He was probably more interested in the kids who weren’t stars, but made the effort and came to practice.

“He had an incredible sense of fairness – that everybody deserved a shot.”

For ticket information about the steak fry, Contact Kathy Gerlach at 949-2285 or kathygerl@netscape.net.

To donate to the Tom Gerlach Memorial Fond online, visit https://www.gofundme.com/tom-gerlach-memorial-fund.