Pawpaw Mike, showing off his love for the Tar Heels this summer at a family get-together.
The Love of the Game
Growing up as a kid in North Carolina the winter months for me meant watching Tar Heel basketball with my dad. In his eyes, Dean Smith could do no wrong and as far as basketball goes, he was right. Well, as far as life goes, Dad was right, too, because just by example and interaction with players and fans, you knew Coach Smith was a man of integrity.
After I married my husband, Michael, it didn’t take long until I realized I would be spending many Saturday afternoons watching Tar Heel basketball with him just like I had with my dad. He, too, loved Tar Heel basketball and thought Dean Smith could do no wrong. The only difference between Michael and my dad was if the Tar Heels were losing, which didn’t happen often, Michael sometimes showed his emotions a little more than Dad.
While reading tributes to Coach Dean Smith this week, I saw several posts by friends sharing their thoughts. Children’s author, Marty Hartman made a comment about something he read that touched his heart, while Pastor Mack Jarvis shared a chance encounter. Both Marty and Mack gave permission to reprint their comments.
Mack Jarvis: When I was a freshman at Carolina in 1980, I had a lab that ran long and was late for an intramural softball game. I took what I thought looked like a short cut around the back side of Carmichael Auditorium. When I rounded a corner, there sat a Cadillac, with Dean Smith getting out of the driver’s seat. We were 10 feet apart, and I instinctively held out my hand and started making my way towards him. I said, ‘Coach, it’s a honor to meet you.’ I told him my name and where I was from, and he said, ‘Thank you. It’s quite a treat to meet you as well.’ Seeing the glove in my hand, he said, ‘Good luck in your game.’ Gotta say, at 19, it was surreal. What a great man in so many ways. It’s only fitting that the sky today was that familiar color of blue.
For Mack to recall every detail of that chance encounter this many years later speaks volumes about Dean Smith not only as a coach, but as a role model to so many. Marty’s following comments stem from an account he read of Dean Smith inviting one of his future players to church with him.
Marty Hartman: Growing up in the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s and being a Wake Forest fan, I will admit to never having much use for the UNC-Tarheels. I will also confess to the fact that as a teenager and a young adult Dean Smith was a coach that I loved to hate. That being said I was always aware of his vast basketball knowledge. I was even more aware of the integrity of Coach Smith that was larger than the man himself. It is in his passing and the many stories and specials that have been shared about him that I find myself very convicted and challenged by the life he lived. One such story that has particularly convicted and challenged me was a story that Charlie Scott shared about his official visit to the UNC campus while being recruited by Coach Smith to play basketball for the Tarheels.
For those of you that don’t know who Charlie Scott is, he was the first black scholarship athlete at UNC. In reminiscing on that official visit Charlie Scott shared a conversation he had with Coach Smith that weekend where the coach asked Charlie if he would like to attend church with him on Sunday. Why is that important and why has that particular statement impacted me in such a powerful way you might ask?
From someone that was very young but very much alive during this time period let me share a bit of history lesson with you. Charlie Scott attended UNC from 1967-70. This was a time in our history that integration was a new concept, especially for the south. This was a very influential white basketball coach of a major university located in a small town in the south asking a young black athlete to attend Sunday services while visiting the university that weekend. Seeing that integration was a fairly new concept to public schools and even the universities during this time period, I feel it safe to say that the congregation at Coach Smith’s church was not integrated at this time.
Think about all that Coach Smith risked being willing to take a young black athlete to church with him because that is where he felt he needed to be and he wanted the young man to join him. It has bothered me for some time that even some 45-50 years later that 11am on Sunday morning is still one of the most segregated hours during our week. Why is that? What am I doing to change that? Am I part of the solution or am I still part of the problem? What has to change in me before I can look past the color of a person’s skin, the way they are dressed, or where they live and see the need inside of them. The need to feel accepted for who they are no matter where they are. What is it going to take for me to treat everyone no matter who they are with the respect they deserve just like Coach Smith did? Whatever it takes to do it I’m there.
As you can see, Coach Smith is still affecting others today by prompting them to examine the purpose and moral fiber of their own lives. He taught the lesson well that it matters not how many wins or loses, but how you play the game. Coach Smith played the game both off and on the court with dignity and an integrity that will never be forgotten. If only there were more like him.
What are your memories of Coach Dean Smith? Leave a comment below, message on Facebook or email email@example.com