By GARY DOVE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Don Smith, who guided the Iaeger Cub boys’ basketball teams for their final nine years of existence, and who has served as boys’ head roundball coach the first three seasons of River View High School, has stepped down from that post.
“Right now, I’m not sure whether it’s ending, or taking this break,” related the 1972 Bluefield High School grad, who has spent his entire teaching and coaching career in Sandy River District.
Smith graduated from Concord in 1976 and worked in private industry for two years before going to a job interview for a teaching position at the former Bradshaw Junior High School in 1978.
Coach Smith spoke of his beginning in education, “When I left Concord and was working in the restaurant industry, teaching was something I had never planned to do.
“I’ve told many people over the years when I first walked into the old building here in Bradshaw for an interview, that was set up by someone else for me and that I had come to just out of curiosity, I saw the way the school was being run, the way the kids acted, and I felt like this was just me being guided to do that (teach).”
He continued, “The second year I was here, I got involved in coaching girls’ and boys’ track and the third year coaching girls’ basketball, and have been coaching every year since, so far 34 years.”
Smith remembered his high school years, when he had no thoughts of teaching, “When I was in high school, my aspirations were to be a newspaper reporter or a writer. I quickly found out I didn’t have the patience to be a good writer. I wrote great books, but they were all in my head. When I sat down to put them onto paper, the patience wasn’t there.”
Now, he tries to steer students into the teaching profession, “We need to encourage our best kids to become teachers. Without good teachers, you’re not going to have a good anything.”
In addition to the last dozen years as boys’ head basketball coach, Smith guided the Iaeger girls’ basketball team for seven seasons. He was also the first girls’ softball coach at Iaeger and was an assistant baseball coach there.
In the classroom, he’s always taught English, with one year instructing West Virginia history.
Now, he has a new pet project, teaching theatre, drama and media at the 3-year-old high school. He beams when he talks of this class addition.
“I think teaching and coaching is the way we touch the future and shape it,” he said. “I’ve taught close to 5,500 kids, coached another 300 kids, coached over 400 high school games and coached another 200 junior high games.
“We’ve had good kids over the years. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
Talking of stepping away from coaching at this time, Smith talked of the physical wear it takes, pointing to his knees.
“Those bus rides and standing up on those floors over the past 34 years have taken a toll,” he said. “Those trips take a toll on everybody.”
Looking at the program he is leaving, he related, “Most of the kids are coming back. Facility-wise, equipment-wise, money-wise, we’re in good shape.”
When asked about some of the memories, Smith told three or four stories from his experience, with each one showing his sense of humor, even with himself.
One he spoke about happened one day in practice when all-state football and baseball player Ryan Bailey was playing basketball. Smith said one of the players let fly with a four letter expletive, so Smith stopped practice and admonished his players that was not allowed and the only four letter words to be used by them should be ones like “play and work and hard and charm.”
He continued, “About five minutes later, Ryan came tugging at my shirt and said, ‘Hey coach, I think charm has five letters.’”
Smith recalled, “The girls’ team (Iaeger) in 1996 played a triple overtime game with Bluefield and won. I had never been in a triple overtime game before.”
He spoke of a pair of games in the Raiders’ first season.
“We were down several points in the very first game and came back and won it on a Cody Jackson shot at the buzzer,” he said. “Later that year, we were down about 20 to Lincoln County and came back to win it on a Cody Underwood shot.”
Of his proudest moments, he said, “Winning the sectional championships with the girls at Iaeger and being in the regionals the last two years with the boys (at Iaeger).”
Current Raiders athletic director Jeff Johnson spoke about Smith, “Over all the years, he’s dedicated his life toward doing the best for these kids. He’s put in endless hours, his own money. He’s been so dedicated to the program.”
“He’s a good guy. …You can’t replace that kind of time and effort he put in, at Iaeger and here (River View).”
The hiatus may be a short one, as Smith spoke of the possibility of getting back into athletics as athletic director at River View. Johnson has confirmed that he is planning to relinquish that position in the near future.
Summing up, Smith said, “In retrospect, for the whole (coaching) career, I don’t think there’s been a minute that I regret anything that has happened. … It’s been a real good ride. … The kids and the people I’ve met along the way over these past 30-some years have been great.”
He continued, “I think teaching and coaching was something I would never have dreamed of doing, but is a dream come true. … One of these years, I’m going to sit down and do what I’ve threatened to do, which is write a book about everything that has happened.”