By LAMAR GAFFORD
Written for the LSWA
Early in his career, Charles Smith was not sure if he would get to 100 wins.
Now with over 1,000 wins and seven Louisiana High School Athletic Association basketball titles to his name, the longtime Peabody coach is set to receive the latest honor in his illustrious career: induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Saturday, June 8 in Natchitoches in a sold-out ceremony carried live on Cox Sports Television.
Smith and 10 others in the Class of 2019 will be spotlighted during the June 6-8 Induction Celebration, which includes the 80’s Bowling Bash in his hometown of Alexandria on Friday, June 7. For details and participation opportunities, visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255.
“I was totally surprised,” Smith said of the day he received his induction call. “I had talked to (central Louisiana sports media titans) Lyn Rollins and Bob Tompkins, who worked closely with me over the (past) year putting my documentary together. Lyn had said, ‘Coach, you know what? With your records and all the stuff that you’ve done, it’s a good possibility that you get in.’
Born just north of Alexandria on May 15, 1949 as the oldest of seven children, Smith credits his upbringing in making him the man that he is today. Two of Smith’s biggest influences were his parents –his father being an Army veteran and his mother, a church-house school teacher.
“Growing up in Central Louisiana was a big plus for me,” Smith said. “I had a lot of people to encourage me. My mother played a great, great role in my life for me getting an education and being a leader as the oldest of seven children. That gave me the responsibility early of how to be a leader and what it means to take on responsibilities.”
“My dad helped me quite a bit in showing me work ethic. Although he worked in common labor at a saw mill, he never missed a day. That gave me the insight that if and when you get a job, you need to be there every day. God also gave me the ability to work with people and children and gave me good health through my coaching career.”
While he would eventually become one of the best high school basketball coaches in Louisiana, or anywhere else, Smith’s first love was baseball.
Introduced to the game in the sixth grade after watching a local Negro League team play every Sunday after church, Smith earned a baseball scholarship to Paul Quinn College and became the first member of his family to attend and graduate from college.
Even though his professional baseball career did not materialize, it became the start of something special. He moved back to Central Louisiana to become a teacher and a basketball coach.
In the first four years of his career, he taught two years each at Slocum and Pineville High School, and was an assistant coach at Slocum before it closed due to integration. One of his first players was Clarence Fields, who would later become the mayor of Pineville for five terms.
His coaching career took off when he accepted a teaching job at Peabody in 1975, a move that allowed him to coach, an opportunity that didn’t exist for him at Pineville.
He became Bowman’s successor in 1985, finally given the opportunity to become a head coach after turning down an assistant principal position at Bolton High School. These years provided him with important lessons in how to be a great head coach.
At 1,039 wins, he is 32 away from surpassing former Southern Lab and Lake Providence coach Joel Hawkins, who has the Louisiana record for wins with 1,071. Having won 30 or more games every year since 2000, it’s almost certain Smith can reach that mark late in the 2019-20 season or early in 2020-21.
“Without my wife, Rosa, I never would have been able to accomplish this,” Smith said. “She’s been with me every step of the way. When I struggled in my early years, she was there for me. She’s been very supportive of me and the basketball program.
“My daughter, Dr. Camacia Ross, was a cheerleader here during her four years at Peabody. We’ve been connected in some form or fashion to Peabody over the last 40 years.”
While stacking up wins, Smith is a father figure to his players and students. He wants the best from them on, and off, the court. The real victories come after their Peabody days.
“My shining moment,” he said, “is helping these at-risk, underprivileged young men use the game of basketball to obtain countless degrees and become productive members of society.”