Teams, players and coaches come and go, but the truly great ones leave impressions that last forever in the memories and stories of those who witnessed them.
In my more than 20 years as a sports journalist and more than 45 years as a sports fan, there are several who I have admired and have been influenced by.
Some of my youngest sports memories involve listening to Atlanta Braves and Falcons games on the radio, as well as the University of Tennessee and Corky Whitlock describing Bradley Central football and basketball games on the radio.
I remember Braves like Orlando Cepeda, Rico Carty and my baseball idol Hank Aaron. There were players from other teams I liked as well — Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Frank Howard, Harmon Killabrew, etc.
On the professional gridiron, I loved Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers. Back then we only had three channels on a black-and-white TV, so we watched whoever was on and with the Packers being the dominate team of the 1960s, that’s who I got to see on Sundays.
While I liked Bart Starr (no kin to George Starr, although one of his sons is named for him), Paul Hornung, Max McGee and Ray Nitschke, my two favorite Packers were offensive linemen Jerry Kramer and Forrest Gregg. One of my favorite books of all time is Kramer and Dick Schaap’s Instant Replay, which told the story of the 1967 Packers run to winning their second straight Super Bowl. Kramer had thrown the lead block on Starr’s famous QB sneak touchdown to win the “Ice Bowl” over the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFL title game and advance to the Super Bowl.
I also remember one of my greatest thrills as a kid was doing a walk-a-thon will Tennessee Vol Bill Emendorfer. I wore my Oak Grove Falcons jersey and walked the whole way by his side in awe.
As a teenager at BCHS, I not only got to witness legendary coach Jim Smiddy lead the Bearettes on a 90-game winning streak and back-to-back mythical national championships. I got to Bradley a year too late to get to see Liz Hannah play, but watched as Data Caldwell and Traci Dixon put on unbelievable shows. I also got to watch several practices when Smiddy had the team going against the boy “gym rats,” and the girls were wiping the floor with them.
I also got to see Coach Louie Alford and his undefeated 1976 Bear team work their way to the TSSAA championship game, where they defeated Jackson Central-Merry 50-48 in triple overtime.
In my early years at the Banner, I got to cover the amazing talents of fearless Jody Adams in her years as a Bearette before going on to play for Coach Pat Summitt and the national champion Tennessee Lady Vols. As a head coach, she currently has her Wichita State team in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
But I digress.
As a sports reporter, I have seen first hand some tremendous coaches and talented athletes. It is with that thought in mind I wanted to write this column about the end of two eras in Bradley High sports.
In the past few weeks the county’s oldest high school has see the end of the playing careers of two very talented basketball players, as well as the stepping aside of one of the school’s most successful coaches.
With more basketball coaching wins than any other Bear mentor, Kent Smith made his recent leave of absence permanent just a week after the “Twin Towers” combo of 6-foot-2 standouts Brooke Copeland and Rebecca Reuter played their final games in a Bearette uniform.
While I didn’t return to the Banner until Christmas of 2007, I didn’t get to see Smith with his powerhouse teams of the early 2000s.
I had heard of Smith’s reputation and the tremendous success he had before I got to see him in action. When I took over the Bradley beat in the 2007-08 school year, I watched his team lose 11 of its dozen games that season and then turn things around to win 13 of their next 16 before they fell to Walker Valley in the District 5-AAA title game and lose to Red Bank in the region quarterfinals.
Over the next four years, I watch this incredible mentor take teams of marginal talent, with one tremendous exception in all-stater Bryce Copeland, farther than anyone expected, including back-to-back TSSAA sectional games.
It’s easy to win when you have a roster full of great players, but the true measure of a coach is what he does with players of average ability. Smith is a master of that.
Having wrestled with the decision of whether to keep coaching or not for the last several years, a knee replacement surgery last summer caused him to take this past season off and gave him time to truly reflect on what life would be without being on the sidelines. He found out there is life outside of the gym and is at peace about stepping down after 17 years on the Bear bench and 21 years of coaching overall.
He leaves with a tremendous 436-145 record, with his best single-season record being 37-2 in the 1998-99 season. He also had five other 30-win seasons, including a 33-3 mark in 2001-02 and 34-3 in 2002-03.
In his time directing the program, Smith produced one Mr. Basketball — Josh Hare (2000) — and two other Mr. Basketball finalists — Justin Hare (2003) and Terrence Oglesby (2005).
While Smith will be greatly missed, he is putting the Bear program in the very capable hands of Chuck Clark, who not only has been at his side the entire 17 years, but was also voted the District Coach of the Year by his fellow coaches this past season while filling in during Smith’s leave of absence.
Kent, I’ve seen very few coaches with your intensity and passion for the game. It has been a privileged to cover your teams for the past several years. I can honestly say you are one of the best coaches with whom I’ve ever had the honor of working.
As for the “Twin Towers,” whom I proudly take credit for giving them that nickname, I’ve watched you grow into more than just a couple of girls taller than anyone else on the court, but into well-rounded ball players, using a variety of God-given skills to befuddle your opponents.
I have witnessed many 6-foot-plus female players over the years, but while many of them basically plant themselves in the paint and just use that height advantage to get rebounds, block shots and score, the two of you have upped your games to full-court capabilites.
Both of you are capable of blocking a shot or grabbing a rebound and then dribbling the ball the length of the court for a basket or a key pass to a teammate for a score. The final game-winning play against Oakland in the sectional game this season is a perfect example.
You can both put up the 3-ball or dominate the paint with some slick moves to get your opponent’s off balanced for a hoop-and-some-harm. Your assist numbers attest to your unselfishness.
While your career stats place you among the best in the storied Bearette history, I am also impressed with your off the court friendship and activities as well. You are more than just “jocks,” you are genuinely interested and active in Bradley High School and your classmates.
I’ve covered many athletes, who when they got off the court or field, weren’t very nice people, but your smiles and hugs for family, friends (young and old), as well as for an old sports reporter come from your heart. Your expressions of gratitude heartfelt and genuine.
While you have been a big part of the Bearettes winning 115 games the past four years, your impact at Bradley reaches far beyond the hardwood.
I’ve enjoyed watching you hon your skills and grow into well-rounded young ladies. I know Bradley’s loss is the University of Florida and Middle Tennessee State University’s gain. I just wish something could have been worked out for the two of you to remain teammates at a college closer to home.
An era is defined as a period of time considered as being of a distinctive character; epoch; marked by distinctive character, events, etc.
Coach Smith and the “Twin Towers” thank you for all you’ve done to uphold the high Bear and Bearette standards and impacting the BCHS landscape.