(Editor’s Note: This tribute to former Burch basketball coach and teacher Bill Smith was written by one of his former players, Tammy Rife Bowers. She was one of the many student-athletes who played for the Lady Bulldogs coached by Smith. She is now living in North Carolina.)
Bill Smith touched the lives of so many people. And he did in a way that was so selfless and giving. Bill never asked for anything but continually gave of himself; to his students, his players, his friends and of course his family! I was so young when I first met Bill, seventh grade and new to Burch. It was on the basketball court and instantly he was someone that I wanted to impress. I couldn’t wait to be in high school and play for him. I worked so hard at practice, everything I could do to earn his praise. He brought out the best in me, in a gentle way that made me want to give him all that I had. He wanted more than just my basketball skills though; he wanted me to be a good person, a great person. It was so important to Bill that his players also gained respect off the floor. Bill made us winners in life, he challenged us far above what we needed to just win a basketball game. He wanted to make sure that we knew how to win in life.
Our team logo was, Burch Women’s Basketball, “No Man Can Fill These Shoes”. Today that phrase takes on a whole new meaning. There will never be another coach like Bill Smith, no one will ever be able to fill those shoes in Mingo county. Bill knew what it meant to be a coach, he invested himself and gave up so much of himself to be able to make a difference in the lives of young men and women. He was a role model, the genuine kind. If you ever had a Bill in your life, on your side, then you understand the gift that we had in him. We were all like family really.
As players we teased and called him ”Daddy Bill ”; Mike was Uncle Mike and then there was Cousin Jim. They treated me like family and have continued to be a part of my life even unto this day. We became closer and meant more to each other over the last 22 years since graduating than we did even then. Bill Smith is a legacy , he’s an icon of Delbarton and he’s something special to each and every person that knew him. Bill cared about his players, our lives, what we were going to grow up and become. Just like a Dad does. Bill never had children of his own but as far as I’m concerned he has lots of daughters. He worried about us, loved us, guided us, and shared himself with us. We will miss him and remember him always.
I know that I am just one of the many girls that played for him that feel this way. We had a very special team when I played. We had a bond that he was proud of but that he also had so much to do with. Practice was something we looked forward to, never with dread. Those hours with him in the gym were the best part of our day. Bill shared his knowledge of the game with us but he also shared his faith with us. It was important to Bill that he gave us the best advice in all areas of our lives and he made sure that he didn’t leave God out of his plan for us. There were numerous times that a practice break would turn into a bible study. Just another reason why our team was so close; He created a team that will one day be a team in heaven.
I’m so glad that we were able to give him that State Championship Title. He would say the same about being able to give it to us though. That was more important to him than winning it for himself. He wanted it so badly for us, he used to say “you will remember it for the rest of your life and no one can take it away from you”. He was so right, even at my age now it’s still one of my greatest memories. Playing for Bill was an experience that I will carry with me forever. I was a young girl whose life was changed forever just by knowing him.
It was a pleasure knowing him and considering him my friend.
Tammy Rife Bowers
(Notes: Smith’s wake will be held Friday evening at Burch Middle School (formerly Burch High) from 6 to 9 p.m. and everyone has been asked to wear blue and white, the Bulldogs colors. The funeral will be held on Saturday at the Regional Church of God in Delbarton at 1 p.m.)
(Kyle Lovern is the Sports Editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-235-4242, ext. 33 or Twitter @KyleLovern)