Cathedral High School track coach Tommy Smith watches as runners cross the finish line at the Natchez Invitational Cross Country meet Wednesday. at the Natchez High School track. (Justin Sellers | The Natchez Democrat)
Cathedral High School track coach Tommy Smith watches as runners cross the finish line at the Natchez Invitational Cross Country meet Wednesday. at the Natchez High School track. (Justin Sellers | The Natchez Democrat)

Archived Story

Smith counts on ‘second family’

Published 12:01am Friday, September 20, 2013

NATCHEZ — When Cathedral High School cross country coach Tommy Smith lost his father, Mike, Sept. 3, Smith naturally wanted to spend time with his family.

But his mother insisted that he instead spend time with his second family — the boys and girls he coaches at Cathedral, who were scheduled to attend a cross country meet in Brookhaven.

“When he died, I told my mom I would either cancel the meet or get someone to take over for me,” Smith said. “She told me to go ahead and go, because my dad was very proud of what I was doing with the kids and would want me to go.”

So Smith, who for the past three years has dedicated himself to the school’s cross country and track athletes, made the trip. And the gesture didn’t go unnoticed by his athletes, particularly sophomore Abby Brown.

“I rode up there with him, and you could tell he was down,” Brown said. “We’re usually singing, smiling and cracking jokes in the car.”

When the team arrived, Brown immediately went to the other teams’ coaches, trying to convince them to dedicate their runs to Smith’s father.

“I asked them, ‘What are y’all doing?’” Smith recalled. “I think I turned over Abby’s wrist over and totally chocked up when I saw my dad’s initials and a cross (written on her wrist).”

Smith estimated 90 percent of the runners had the same thanks to Brown’s requests to their coaches.

“That was a pretty strong emotion for me,” Smith said.

And Brown said she was happy to go out of her way for her coach, whom she and the other athletes see as a best friend.

“I feel like he deserved it,” Brown said. “He does so much for us, and he would do the same for me. It’s just a way to give back to him.”

Junior Peyton Latham said he was very grateful for Smith to still come to their meet despite having a death in the family.

“He’s very dedicate to our cause,” Latham said. “To go through something that dramatic and show up, that means a lot to us. It takes a lot of dedication.”

Like Brown, Latham said he was more than happy to dedicate his run to his coach — and he was happy to see his teammates do the same.

“It shows him that us as a team, we’re there for him just like he’s there for us at any given moment,” Latham said.

That family atmosphere is something Smith said he’s tried to create with his cross country team since he took over the program three years ago.

“I would rather have my kids caring, loving and concerned toward one another than have us winning meets with a bunch of kids that were ugly to one another,” Smith said.

Part of raising a family of athletes is having a coach whom the athletes respect, and Brown said all of the runners look up to Smith.

“It’s better when you like someone you do stuff for, and we respect him, and he respects us back,” Brown said. “We’re open to doing anything for him.”

Latham said Smith’s effectiveness as a coach goes beyond teaching them how to run and pace themselves.

“He’s always honest with you, and he always gives good advice anytime you’re in doubt,” Latham said. “He’s a very dependable coach and very uplifting toward everyone. He’s always there for you anytime you need him. He’s just a phone call away, and you can talk to him about anything.”

After going through such a tragic loss, Smith said being with his second family helped bring a level of comfort he might not have gotten otherwise.

“I think being with the kids and their parents helped ease my mind,” Smith said.

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