Deitz leaves behind a legacy in WNC
Boyce Deitz’s influence on Swain County athletics was rich and storied, but the program to which he dedicated two decades of his life summarized the news of his passing in just four words.
“Our hearts are broken,” read the Dec. 30 Facebook post from Swain High School Athletics, announcing Deitz’s passing earlier that day.
Deitz, 74, was a legendary football coach turned public servant, and he had a reputation as a man of integrity who was a mentor and friend to many.
A Jackson County native, Deitz was an outstanding left guard for the Sylva-Webster football team in the mid-1960s. He served as head football coach in Swain County 1977-1997 and took over the Smoky Mountain High School program in Jackson County 1997-2000. During that time, he compiled an astounding 218-72-2 record, with his record at Swain County High School alone sitting at 201-58-1. Deitz led his teams to three 1A football championships and one 2A state championship. He was chosen as the 1979 Coach of the Year, and the football field at Swain County was named in his honor.
These accomplishments earned him a place in history. In February 2023, he was inducted into the N.C. High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame, following previous inductions into the Western North Carolina, Swain County and Jackson County athletic halls of fame.
However, his accomplishments weren’t limited to athletics. Dedicated to his family, he was a husband, father and grandfather to six grandchildren. Dietz’ civic career began when one of his former football players, Heath Shuler, went on to become a U.S. Congressman. Shuler hired Deitz as his field representative, a role he filled from 2007-2013. During that time, Deitz was instrumental in the construction of the Western N.C. Regional Livestock Center in Canton, which opened in 2011.
After Shuler left office, Deitz continued his political career by running as a Democrat to represent District 3 on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. He easily won the 2014 election, earning nearly 55% of the vote to beat out incumbent Doug Cody. He was re-elected in 2018 before suffering a narrow loss to John Smith in 2022.
During his time on the board, Deitz was known for his thoughtful questions, careful stewardship of county tax dollars and respect for those he governed.
“I spent my whole life coaching and teaching, and people tell me you can’t do something, and someway when someone tells you it absolutely can’t be done there’s probably a way to do it,” Deitz said. He spoke during a 2016 board discussion about remodeling the Justice Center, but the sentiment echoed throughout his life.
News of Deitz’s passing elicited condolences and warm remembrances from across the region. In a statement, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Michell Hicks said Deitz “leaves behind an indelible legacy marked by his mentorship and guidance” of student-athletes across the region, including tribal members, and that his work under Schuler had “profound impacts for our tribe.” The Jackson County Democrats wrote that Jackson County and WNC “lost a giant” with Deitz’s death, calling him “a leader of young men for generations, advocate for the citizens of his community and an example of leadership for us all.” Swain County High School Athletics remembered him as a “coach, mentor, advisor, patriarch and friend” who was a “larger than life legend that shaped the lives of countless young people.”
In a Facebook post, Travis Hyatt, a former Swain County Board of Education members and current assistant football coach at Swain High School, said that throughout his life he experienced Deitz as a tough coach, valued mentor and close friend.
“Coach Deitz was a man of integrity and turned many boys from Swain County into the honest and hardworking men they are today,” Hyatt wrote, “and I can say without a doubt that he played a huge part in me becoming the man I am today. Playing football for him as a coach was not for the faint of heart. He set high standards, meant what he said and said what he meant, and held every single player on his team accountable for their actions. He earned respect by living by the lessons he preached.”
A celebration of life will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 4, on the Boyce Deitz Field at Swain County Memorial Stadium in Bryson City, followed by a reception at the Swain County Gymnasium. Former players and people who coached with Deitz are asked to meet at the field house gate before 1 p.m. to walk out on the field before the family.
An obituary will be posted at appalachianfuneralservices.com/obituaries/boyce-deitz when available.