Doing it his way paved Charles Smith’s path to national prominence, state shrine
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.’
“So, we just laughed and joked about it, but then Bob called me in mid-August and said, ‘Coach, I have some good news for you. You were selected for this year’s induction.’ I was at my parents’ house on a Sunday afternoon and I had a chance to share with my mom before she passed before Christmas.”
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.
“My senior year, I had some great numbers and I was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds,” Smith said.
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.
At the time, the Warhorses were coached by another legendary coach, Earnest Bowman, who won nearly 400 games and the Class 3A title in 1979 with future Tulane star and NBA player Paul Thompson.
“He was an outstanding basketball coach and also a math teacher, so academics was first with him,” Smith said of Bowman. “I learned early in my teaching career that you had to be a student-athlete, not just an athlete. He was a great X’s and O’s man and gave me a chance early by letting me be the junior varsity coach. He also let me make decisions on the varsity team. That helped me advance my ability to coach at the early stages of my career.”
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.
The first two seasons were rough with a combined 21-34 record. The Warhorses had losing seasons and did not qualify for the playoffs.
However, those years provided him with important lessons in how to be a great head coach.
“I still had some of the players left over from Mr. Bowman’s tenure and I tried to imitate his coaching style,” Smith said. “He was successful, don’t get me wrong, but we were two different people. I had to step back and evaluate what I was doing. I finally figured that out in my second year after our second consecutive losing season. All of the players from Mr. Bowman’s era left and I brought in my players and I started my style of basketball.”
The Warhorses were off and running in Year Three of the Smith era in the 1987-88 season with a 28-7 season, which included the first of numerous state tournament appearances and district titles and featured his first standout player, College of Charleston signee Kevin Madden.
“I brought in a young bunch of kids and (Madden) was the leader of that team,” Smith said. “He was my first scholarship player as a head coach. I realized then too that if these young men worked hard enough in the classroom and on the basketball court that I could get them into college. Over the course of my career, I made contact with different college coaches and now I have a repertoire that is so wide that I can get on the phone and call coaches and say, ‘I have a young man that you might be interested in.’ ”
During his career, over 60 players have received basketball scholarships – a stat that Smith takes much pride in.
It is also a result of an equation that Smith always gives his players prior to every season: “Education + Basketball + College = Success,” with basketball being the least significant part of the formula.
“I’ve coached at least 15 players per season over the course of 34 years. That’s a lot of basketball players,” Smith said. “But the thing I’m most proud of is out of all those players, I was able to have 60 players receive basketball scholarships.”
One other big number for Smith is seven, as in the number of LHSAA titles he has collected for Peabody.
The Warhorses’ championship collection began in 1991, when they defeated Carroll for the Class 3A state crown a season after losing in the title game to Rapides Parish rival Pineville.
“Being a part of one (as an assistant coach) was great but being the head coach of a championship team was outstanding,” Smith said. “I think we did more crying that year than we did celebrating, because we had worked so hard over the course of the years to get to that point, and we finally got there.”
Smith followed that with titles in 2000, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2017. The 2004 and 2010 teams stand out as they were both 41-0 and ranked nationally in the top five.
Those two teams hold a special place in Smith’s heart as they competed during the summer in the AAU circuit.
“Those two teams bonded together as a family,” Smith said. “They didn’t spend a minute apart from each other. They were together on and off the basketball court. They challenged each other academically – 75 percent of the boys on those teams were honor roll students. They were very competitive; they had that desire and that will to win. They would put themselves out front to do what they had to do in order for the team to win.”
If there is one regret that Smith has, it would be not coaching his son and his grandson to state championships. Each joined the program the season after a title win and closed their senior years with a loss in the LHSAA state tournament semifinals.
His son, Kedric, starred at Peabody from 1991-1995, while his grandson, Jacoby Ross, was the team’s point guard from 2012-2016. Both players earned a chance to play in college. Kedric signed with Kansas City Community College and later to UNC Charlotte before eventually joining his dad’s coaching staff. Jacoby — Kedric’s nephew — signed with Alabama State, where he is currently the Hornets point guard.
“When you coach your son or your grandson, the first thing people want to say is that he’s playing because he’s your son or grandson,” Smith said. “I have to take my hat off to both of those young men, because they were truly outstanding players in high school. I wouldn’t want to play a game without those two guys. They both were outstanding leaders and great scorers.”
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.”
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