I flipped through my rolodex yesterday, looking for people I could call about George Schmeider. I should have just flipped through the phonebook.
Everybody has a story.
“He made the world a better place,” said Warwick Vets athletic director Ken Rix.
George died Monday after a months-long battle with a mysterious illness that impacted his brain. He was fine one day, seriously ill the next. He fell into a coma-like state and never recovered. He was just 37.
I didn’t interact with him much outside of the Warwick sports world, but to know him, I didn’t need to. On a wrestling mat or a football field, the qualities that defined him were always on his sleeve. He was passionate, enthusiastic, intense. He seemed to have a permanent smile.
The first time I met him, he shook my hand and slapped me on the back. I thought he might hug me. Anytime he saw me, he called me buddy. I’m not sure he remembered my name for the first few years but it didn’t bother me. He eventually learned – and still, he always said, ‘Hey, buddy.’
As I got to know the Warwick sports scene, stories painted a deeper picture. George wasn’t just a happy-go-lucky wrestling coach. He was much more.
He taught at Gorton Junior High, where he started a fitness club on his own time to help kids get in better shape, volunteering after school to make it happen.
He loved Oakland Beach and the community there. He loved Vets, a place he often said saved him when he was young. When he graduated high school, he wanted nothing more than to teach and come back to Vets as a coach.
On the wrestling mats, he helped build Vets into a powerhouse, but mostly he helped his wrestlers reach their potential – in the gym and outside of it. He used to load up his van with wrestlers and drive them to a prestigious gym in Connecticut, where they could challenge themselves against top competition. He would drive all the way back and drop every kid off at their front door.
Off the mat, he helped keep grades up. He constantly talked about being a good person.
“He preached to the kids about character,” Rix said. “And he wanted the kids to grow up to be quality human beings.”
Those kids never had to look far for a role model. George made mistakes like everybody else, but he believed in second chances and he believed in making the most of them.
I wrote a column when George first got sick about a tournament being organized in his honor. Gary Costantino, a close friend of George’s and one of the organizers, was just trying to do what George would have done.
“If I was sick or anybody else was sick, George would be the first person going above and beyond,” Costantino said.
It wasn’t hard to imagine the tournament being a success. George touched a lot of lives, but when the fundraising totals came in, I think everyone realized just how many. The tournament raised more than $20,000.
That speaks to his impact, but the real proof lies in all those stories, all those lives that intersected with George’s and were better because of it.
“Everybody has a story,” Costantino said.
The stories will be told often this week, as friends and family gather. They will be told with a heavy heart but they should be told all the same. If you have one, I’d even encourage you to go to our web site and share it in the comments section on this story. We could all stand to hear more of them.
George will be missed deeply by his family and friends. Wrestling meets won’t be the same. Vets won’t be the same.
He’s a man who was taken too soon, but those stories, they live on.
He made a world of them.
“Thirty-seven years was not enough time,” Rix said. “He lived the fullest 37 years of life of anyone I have ever known.”
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.