Jimmy Schmidt’s first job was on the Ocean City Boardwalk, working on the rides at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier.
His commute was nominal: His family home, 100 or so yards away, had a great view of the Ferris wheel.
Later, when he finished Ocean City High School and went to Virginia’s Lynchburg College, his job took him much farther from home — five blocks down the boards. He was a lifeguard and then tennis pro at Ocean City’s landmark Flanders Hotel.
Schmidt was a high school and college tennis star, and Ocean City’s courts became a key spot in his life. He met his wife, Carol, at the courts, which were right down the street from his home. Tennis also was his first post-college job: Lynchburg hired him as a coach as soon as he graduated. At 22, he was the youngest head coach in the NCAA at the time, the Ocean City Sentinel-Ledger reported in 1979.
His career never let him live full time in South Jersey again.
Schmidt was 55 when he died last month of an aggressive cancer.
He spent most of his life in the Baltimore suburbs, but he never stopped visiting his hometown Boardwalk and beaches — and his parents, Jim and Dottie — every chance he got.
Jim and Dottie also left Ocean City 15 years ago, to go all the way to Beesleys Point, across the 34th Street bridge in Upper Township. Jimmy and Carol and their girls, Krista, Becky and Casey, didn’t love that move, but the younger Schmidts still got in every second of Ocean City time they could.
One July Saturday, Dottie recalls waiting for Jimmy’s gang to get to her place from Maryland. It got late, so she called to see whether they were stuck in traffic. Actually, Jimmy admitted, they’d skipped stopping at home to head right to the beach. Later, he called to apologize for missing dinner, too — they’d just grabbed something on the boards.
“The beach was their thing,” Jim said. “They’d go at 8:30 or 9 in the morning, and sometimes we had to take dinner to them there” — until pizza joints started delivering to the beach.
Jimmy was an accomplished guy. He owned a software company and was vice president of another business. In coaching, he went from tennis to softball — which his daughters liked better — and rose through local leagues until a few years ago, when the U.S. Naval Academy recruited him as its softball coach.
“When the call comes from the Naval Academy,” he told a Maryland TV reporter, “you don’t turn that down.”
Sure, all that work and softball cut down on beach time, but Jimmy fixed that: He spread a load of sand around his backyard pool — instant beach. And his dad built him a precise replica of an Ocean City lifeguard stand, to make that baby beach just a little closer to home.
A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.
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