December 9, 2017 10:57:27 PM
The holiday season typically is a busy time of the year for Sammy Smith.
For many years, Smith spent the first few weeks of December putting the finishing touches on Columbus High School's Joe Horne Christmas Classic to make sure the annual basketball tournament remained one of the state's premier attractions.
In the last three years, Smith has been even busier. With 18 varsity sports to manage, Smith's work as athletic director has helped him adjust to life after being a boys' basketball coach.
In that time, Smith has seen a lot of changes at Columbus High and in the Columbus Municipal School District. Through it all, Smith feels he has grown and gotten better every day.
"My first year, it was a grind," Smith said. "It got better the second year, and it is getting a little better. That doesn't mean I am going to slow down and not work hard to get it even better. The first time you feel satisfied then you stay at the status quo. We don't want that. I have to work twice as hard to keep this thing moving forward."
Smith admits basketball is his first love. In May 2015, CMSD announced former Alcorn State University men's basketball coach and John W. Provine High boys' basketball coach Luther Riley was replacing Smith as head coach. Smith led Columbus to a 22-6 record in his final season. The Falcons lost in the second round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State tournament.
Smith went 79-39 at Lee High in Columbus from 1988-92. He went on to become boys' basketball coach at Quitman Consolidated High, where he coached future Alabama and NBA standout Antonio McDyess, before returning to Columbus High on May 10, 1995.
CMSD Superintendent Philip Hickman said in an email at the time Smith would continue to work as a high school physical education teacher and as an assistant athletic director. He said Smith also would serve in a role designed to "strengthen our athletic community and family partnerships."
Wants vs. needs
Smith feels he has "settled in" and that the athletic department is finding its footing. He said his challenge remains how to find the resources to give all of his coaches as things they need.
"I tell my nieces and nephews wants and needs are two different things," Smith said. "You want your coaches to be successful. Whatever we can get them to enhance their programs, that is what I am here for athletically."
On Aug. 29, the CMSD and Mississippi University for Women announced a partnership that will allow The W's baseball team to use the Columbus High baseball field.
Under the agreement, The W used the baseball facilities for five weeks during the fall season. It also will use the facilities for its 19-week spring season. The W is scheduled to play host to Crowley's Ridge at 3 p.m. Feb. 16, in its first home game. The W will play seven home dates at the facility.
The W also will assist Columbus High with facility improvements, including new bullpens, a new outfield fence, and playing surface upgrades. Concessions for home games will operated by Columbus High.
Jason Trufant, the director of athletics at The W, said a five-year deal was signed with the CMSD with an option to extend it.
Trufant said The W has nearly completed the fencing project at the Columbus High baseball field. He said that work is a part of a total that is "in the neighborhood of $15,000" for improvements to the facility. Trufant said other work will be done to upgrade the bullpens and the dugouts at the field. He said "standard" CMSD rates were used to come up with costs to pay for the seven dates The W will play baseball games at Columbus High and for the upgrades to the facility.
Improving other facilities
Columbus High has worked in recent years to improve its facilities. The boys' and girls' soccer teams play on a new field adjacent to the football stadium. Smith said last school year was the first year the soccer field was used. Currently, there is an issue with the lights that has forced the teams to play their matches at the downtown Columbus Soccer Complex.
Columbus High's football stadium also had new track installed surrounding the field, while the football team's field house had an addition to the weight room last school year.
The baseball and softball teams also saw the construction of an indoor hitting facility that can use in case of inclement weather. The softball field added a new press box last school year, too.
Smith feels the improvements show positive growth as a whole. He still feels there is room to grow.
"We are trying to get the right people in the right places to make sure our program moves forward," Smith said. "We have had some success in all programs. Softball has done some tremendous things. Last year, we had our first Falcon Relays in track. The basketball program won a state championship in 2016.
"All of those things are positive situations," he added. "We feel really good about that and the people we have in place. Now we just have to keep grinding, keep understanding it is about the kids. As long as we keep that focus and keep working toward those types of things, the sky is the limit."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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