by Scott Kindberg
May 12, 2002
Smith's Career Has Been A Smash Hit At Southwestern
His enthusiasm was obvious. His appreciation of his teacher was also very much apparent.
Smith smiled, knowing she'd hooked another student on the joys of reading, and said, "I knew you'd like it."
It's gone pretty much like that for Smith since she started teaching at the school on Hunt Road 29 years ago. Whether it's in the classroom or on the tennis courts - she teaches 12th grade English and coaches both the boys and girls tennis teams - Smith has found the knack for getting everyone to buy into what she has to offer.
"She has such a sense of humor," said senior Brandon Milliner, who has Smith in class and is second singles player on the boys' tennis team. "She's a great person with the kids and she knows a lot about tennis."
But when the Trojans put away their racquets for the last time this spring and her senior English students clean out their lockers in June in preparation for graduation, Smith will follow them out the door, too.
After nearly three decades, Smith, 55, is retiring. Chautauqua County's tennis chairwoman, tennis ambassador and, as Milliner puts it, "great person all-around," has decided that it's time to enjoy traveling with her husband, James, while leaving the teaching and coaching to someone else.
"It's just time to pursue another area," she said.
Smith's shoes will be difficult to fill.
Of course, no one will ever completely fill her shoes. Smith's replacement can only hope to carry on the tennis tradition that she has developed since taking the boys job in the spring of 1974. She later became the Trojan's first girls' tennis coach in 1977 and, between the two squads, has posted an incredible 591-106 record (.848 winning percentage).
Who would have thought?
Certainly not the Southwestern athletic director in 1974, who was skeptical that a female would be able to coach a boys team. In fact, Smith was asked if she'd consider taking over the cheerleading squad instead.
Smith said she knew nothing about cheerleading, but had considerable tennis experience, dating back to age 12 when she used to play on the courts in Allen Park in Jamestown.
Ultimately, Smith got the job, becoming what is believed to be the county's first female coach of a boys' varsity sport.
It may have been the best sports decision ever made at Southwestern. For while the Trojans have produced some fine athletes in many sports for many years, Smith has cornered the market when it comes to winning championships.
"We've been the team of the 80's and 90's," she said.
No argument there.
Since 1980, Smith has guided the boys to 17 division championships, the girls to 17 division championships and sent a handful of players to the state tournament. Along the way, she has overseen winning streaks of 72 matches by the boys (1988-1992) and 36 matches by the girls (1999-2001), won numerous awards for coaching and playing, and served as an assistant camp director at St. Bonaventure University for 17 years.
But beyond he accomplishments on the courts, Smith remembers the association she's had with scores of students.
That's why she enjoys the road trips so much.
"The bus trips make the job," Smith says.
She should know.
Smith, who has her bus driver's license, commandeers a 1984 Suburban, bus No. 94.
"It's a big, blocky thing and it's yellow," she said. "I like it because I'm in control."
There are no assigned seats, although players get to choose their places based on seniority.
This spring, Chris Post, a seventh-grade phenom and the Trojan's No. 1 singles player, is the youngest and he sits next to Smith in the front seat.
"He's the rookie," Smith said.
While driving, Smith engages the teens - girls in the fall and boys in the spring - in word games. They routinely make food stops at Tasta Pizza in Olean and the Hook 'n Ladder Deli in Fredonia. She calls it fun. So do the kids.
But it's more than that.
For more than half her life, Smith has made tennis and teaching her top priorities. Girls and boys have reaped the benefits of her counsel. They've enjoyed trips to league, county, sectional and state competitions. In the classroom, she's read works like Macbeth and King Arthur over and over, and still gets excited about them. The kids have picked up on that enthusiasm.
"Everyone loves her in the classroom," Milliner says. "She's just a perfect lady."
That "perfect lady" will chair her last county championship beginning Monday at State College at Fredonia. After that, she believes, Post, the precocious seventh-grader, will have a chance to make some noise at the Section 6 Championship next week, and maybe even make a trip to the states at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows.
That would only be appropriate.
When you are the best at what you do, like Smith has been, you always want to go out on top.