Bill Schmidt, a Canonsburg native-turned- Olympian, sports marketing pioneer and world traveler is adding another title to his resume: author.
“I’m an author,” laughed Schmidt, whose autobiography, “Southview to Gettysvue: From a Coal Camp to Olympic Podium, to Courtside with Michael Jordan,” by Newman Springs Publishing, is now available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com.
“It was a labor of love,” he said. “It may have been one of the most challenging efforts I’ve ever done. I thought, ‘You’ve been challenged before.’ There was a lot of material that I didn’t use. There’s a lot of stories I’ll never be able to tell, some stories about a life that was pretty rough at the beginning.”
Schmidt wasn’t born great; greatness in athletics and business would come later, after years of hard work carving destiny out of adversity.
Two years after he and his twin brother, Bob Schmidt, were born near Canonsburg in 1947, their father died by suicide, leaving the boys’ mother to raise seven kids on her own.
“Everybody knew Helen P., Helen P. Schmidt, my mother,” Schmidt said. “She had a sixth-grade education. She worked every day and provided everything we needed. We didn’t want for anything.”
Though they didn’t want for anything, the boys dreamed of a bigger life. The competitive Schmidt twins graduated from a two-room schoolhouse in Southview to Canon-McMillan, where they discovered they were quite good athletes. Schmidt played American Legion baseball (he made the Western Pennsylvania All-Star Team) and football, but it was track and field that stuck.
Despite an encouraging coach, Joe Gowern, and pure grit, Schmidt, whose longest high school javelin throw was 204 feet, 4 inches, was not recruited by college or university scouts. After an unsuccessful stint at junior college, Gowern told his former athlete about an opportunity down South.
At Gowern’s urging, Schmidt traveled to North Texas State University, now University of North Texas, without promise of a scholarship or starting position on the track and field team.
“He was more excited about me going to college than I was,” said Schmidt. “He said I could walk on in Texas. I walked on and, as they say, the rest is history.”
Schmidt recounts his path from North Texas to the U.S. Army to Munich, where in 1972, despite lackluster pre-Olympic heat showings and a no-show bus on competition day, the Canonsburg native took Olympic bronze while Helen P., his brother, Bob, and Coach Gowern cheered him on.
“It wasn’t until the night before the Olympic final that I thought I could medal. It was my faith, and my belief that I could be there. I did all the training necessary to get there. It’s that one-half of 1% that really make it,” said Schmidt.
In his autobiography, Schmidt also details life after Olympic glory.
“You don’t make a living” as an Olympian, said Schmidt, who holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from North Texas and earned a Master of Science in Business Education from the University of Tennessee.
“The Olympic medal didn’t assure me of any kind of success in the business world. It was, what’s next, at 30 years old? I better get to work,” he laughed. “You have to get a job. I competed for a track club, competed 10 years out of college. I won a national title, which was always a goal. We didn’t make the ‘80 Olympics because of the Carter boycott.”
But Schmidt was at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, where he served as vice president of sports following a successful showing as Director of Sports at the 1982 Knoxville World’s Fair.
“I would say the Olympic bronze medal, and organizing the Olympics in L.A., and the growth of Gatorade from an $80 million brand, coupled with signing (Michael Jordan), would be the gold, silver and bronze” of my life, Schmidt said.
Readers are treated to all that and more in “Southview to Gettysvue,” 344 pages of inspiration and encouragement told in gripping, conversational prose. In one chapter, Schmidt relives the dance he gingerly two-stepped with Michael Jordan’s agent David Falk in 1991, a dance that ended with Jordan leaving Coca-Cola, signing with Schmidt (then-vice president of Worldwide Sports Marketing at Gatorade, a subsidiary of Quaker Oats), and the iconic “Be Like Mike” advertising campaign.
“Falk didn’t have to sell me on Jordan’s abilities. I was there to find out what his asking price was. I made the first move. After all, I had invited Falk to dinner, and I was picking up the check,” Schmidt remembers in “Southview to Gettysvue.”
“I reached for a cocktail napkin, wrote a few numbers on it, folded it, and passed it to Falk. He opened it and smiled,” Schmidt continues in smooth prose, recounting the rest of the 1991 NBA All-Star Weekend before concluding the chapter with, “Those cocktail napkins were disposed of by the waiter. If only he knew.”
It’s his drive to reach new heights, his business savvy and vision paired with an incredible work ethic and gritty determination that twice earned Schmidt a spot on The Sporting News’ “100 Most Powerful People in Sports” and the Sports Business Daily/Global Journal’s 2014 “Champions Award,” which Schmidt was awarded as a “Pioneer and Innovator in Sports Business.”
He was also inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.
“It was never about the money, never about the title. It was about forming strong relationships,” Schmidt said. “You see the end product, you don’t see the workout. There’s a lot of adversity before anybody gets to a level of success.
“Every job I had, I wasn’t qualified for. The Olympics was a dream, and then to work at the Olympics was another step in a blessed life, and making the best of it once you’re there and making an impact. “
Schmidt, an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee, one-time CEO of Oakley and founder of Pegasus Sports Marketing, hopes his book will have an impact on tomorrow’s leaders, whatever field they pursue.
“Challenge yourself, look outside the box. How can you be a proactive person and lead the parade? Don’t let your current conditions restrict you. Don’t complain about what you don’t have; what do you need to have to reach the next level?” he said.
Right now, Schmidt, who enjoys golfing with brother Bob, watching sports and smoking good cigars, is enjoying the view from his next level. He recently returned home from Antarctica, his last unexplored continent on Earth (“It was like being on another planet,” he said with awe) and is busy promoting “Southview to Gettysvue.”
“You can be creative and you can be executional,” said Schmidt, noting success is often found at the intersection of vision and hard work. “(In “Southview to Gettysvue”), I think there’s a lot to be learned for anybody ... that has a dream. If I can make it, where I came from, with the support of a lot of people – if you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way.”
To purchase “Southview to Gettysvue,” visit https://www.amazon.com/Southview-Gettysvue-Olympic-Courtside-Michael/dp/1684984459.
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