ARCHIVE LIBRARY

GREATNESS AMONG US

by Doug Ireland

Imagine a local musician, and there are some really good ones, being considered for induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Holy Grail of rock, with the greatest names in the business – the first class in 1986 was headlined by Elvis, and included Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown, Buddy Holly and more. Since – you can name them but the list includes the very best of the best. So fill in this blank _______ with the name of your favorite local rocker, and imagine that local legend taking a spot alongside The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, … you get the gist. You know the names.

It’s unthinkable.

Shift your focus on greatness to the sports world, and the game of basketball, invented in Springfield, Mass., in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith. In 1959, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame was established in Springfield to honor the elite figures in the game’s history.

Even if you’re not a hard-core basketball fan, you probably know some of the game’s greatest – Michael “Air” Jordan, Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain, “Dr. J” Julius Erving, Larry Byrd, Bob Cousy, Jerry West, Pete Maravich, Bill Russell, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Bob Pettit, Karl Malone, and women such as Cheryl Miller, Anne Donovan, Nancy Lieberman, Kim Mulkey, Teresa Weatherspoon, Katie Smith and Rebecca Lobo, just to start a superstar list.

The greatest coaches ever are in the Basketball Hall – from Phil Jackson to Red Holtzman to Al Maguire, to Larry Brown, Pat Riley, Bob Knight, Adolph Rupp, Pat Summit, Tara Vanderveer, and many more. But just the absolute greats of the game.

As of Feb. 16, a local man is on the brink of joining that group. Yes, a LOCAL man. He’s one of 14 finalists for the Hoop Hall’s Class of 2024 to be announced in early April at the NCAA Final Four. Last year’s Class of 2023 included 14 inductees – so perhaps all the finalists this year will go in.

If not, it’s only the first year that Charles Smith has been nominated for the Hall of Fame, let alone made it through a list of 37 North American nominees down to just six from that subgroup to rank among the 14 finalists.

Yes, that’s right. Charles Smith, boys basketball coach and math teacher, best known among many students for his tough trigonometry classes at Peabody Magnet High School right here in Alexandria.

Charles Smith. Michael Jordan. Dr. J. Phil Jackson. John Thompson. Coach K.

Our local legend, still coaching the Warhorses in this year’s state playoffs, is in that stratosphere. Not my opinion (although I agree). I can assure you, not HIS opinion. But in the eyes of basketball experts from around the country and the world, he fits.

To simply be considered is an amazing compliment. To have been named a finalist is astounding, especially in his first year as a nominee. To earn induction? To the sport’s most exclusive club, a worldwide hall of honor?

It’s awe-inspiring to consider a Rapides Parish native is on the brink of basketball immortality.

His credentials: he ranks fifth, and is still climbing, among the most successful high school boys basketball coaches in American history, having coached 1,204 wins for Peabody since 1985 (and just 214 losses). He’s hoping his team might win a ninth state championship in the next couple of weeks. It could happen.

Three of the five high school boys coaches who rank ahead of him on the USA wins list are in the Basketball Hall. The one who isn’t has coached seven more years than Smith and is NOT among the finalists.

Coach Smith was inducted in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2019. He has his rightful place among the state’s all-time sports greats.

As the kids say, “put some respect on his name.” Charles Smith didn’t ask for this level of recognition, but people who are the caretakers of the sport believe he’s worthy of it.

It’s breathtaking to consider.

 

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