Broken but strong in faith: Coach Tim Smith

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"Broken but strong in faith" was Tim Smith’s motto these past few years. Tim wrote his own obituary weeks before his death. In fact, he prepared all aspects of his funeral, including contacting people to do the service, give eulogies and the music. He didn’t think of himself as anything other than a humble husband, father, and servant of God. What Tim Smith was to many was an inspiration. All he wanted to do was be with his family, give glory to God, and coach sports.

On Nov. 30, 2015, Tim Smith was given the diagnosis of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, a nervous system disease that attacks nerve cells called neurons in the brain and spinal cord. These neurons transmit messages from the brain and spinal cord to the voluntary muscles. At first, this causes mild muscle problems, such as trouble walking or running, difficulty writing, or speech problems. Eventually, victims lose their strength and ability to move. Most people with ALS die from respiratory failure, no one knows what causes ALS.

Prior to his diagnosis, Tim Smith was a coach and teacher at Caruthersville High School. He left Caruthersville in 2015, not because he wanted to, but because his family needed him. According to his widow, Elizabeth Smith, “Late in 2013, Tim started losing the use of his left hand. He began the long process of having doctor after doctor look at him and no one knew what it was. He underwent a surgery in Oct. 2014 that tried to reinvigorate the tendons in his left arm but it caused his left hand to lose use. In the spring of 2015, he had a heart attack. They did procedures to return his heart to functioning and implanted two stents. Immediately following that, my mother fell and broke her second hip in six months, I was granted a transfer to an office in Farmington where I work for division of Vocational Rehabilitation for the State of Missouri. I immediately moved, Tim arranged for packers and moved as soon as the school year was completed. He certainly did not want to leave Caruthersville, he loved working and coaching there, but he did come with me to start a new life here. He was hired by the Fredericktown School District and began teaching at their school on a private campus, teaching students in residential treatment. Initially, it appeared that he had just slow down, he was out of breath and unable to have any stamina. He returned to the doctors, underwent test after test. But they couldn't find out what was wrong with him. He couldn't breathe, he was exhausted, his right hand started to lose function. Nov. 30, 2015, he was placed in the ICU at John Cochran VA hospital in St. Louis where he was formally given the diagnosis of ALS. This has caused all the medical problems he had experienced with his left hand and his heart attack. He was told then, Nov. 2015, he was going to die, to get his affairs in order because he would not make it to Spring 2016.”

Smith had always wanted to teach and coach according to his wife. They married in April of 1992 and he joined the Air Force. He left for Basic Training two days after their wedding. Tim completed Basic Training, at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX. Then moved on to jet engine mechanics school at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantool, IL before he transferred to his first permanent station, Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, MS, where Elizabeth joined him. While in Biloxi, Smith was awarded Airman of the Squadron, Airman of the Division, and Airman of the Base and the two welcomed their beautiful daughter Lexie. The families’ next station was Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, AZ. Shortly after their arrival, Smith was deployed to Aviano, Italy to support the Bosnian War efforts. He returned to his post in Arizona and continued to receive accolades. Due to his performance and leadership, he was promoted ‘below the zone,’ which meant he was able to advance to the next pay grade ahead of those in his peer class. While in Arizona, Smith developed and honed his leadership skills, becoming shop chief, completing an Associate Degree, and then his Bachelors of Science Degree in Accounting & Business Management. Due to medical issues, he was awarded a medical retirement and went on to work as an accounts manager at Southeast Missouri State University, coached for his daughters many sports teams, and started thinking about his original dream, to coach and teach. With that in mind, he returned to school to obtain a degree in education.

Smith taught and coached at Puxico High School, Meadow Height High School and Caruthersville High School. He coached basketball, tennis and baseball, but was an avid sports fan. While at Caruthersville, Smith lead the boys’ basketball team as they won the Conference Championship. He was one of only a handful of coaches in Caruthersville to have 20 or more-regular season wins. Just like everything else, he did not take credit for the wins, but instead honored the students who played for him. Assistant Coach, Lamonte Bell said, “I was blessed to be able to Coach with Timmy for 3 years. He was one Coach that trusted in me and gave me room to grow. He was a man of faith, which made us really close. He prayed faithfully, loved his family, and treated us all like we were his immediate family. Coach was known to shoot his pistol with his fingers during Basketball games and talk smack, but was respected by many. He made the word ‘scrub’ and ‘Money!’ famous. I am in the position I am now, thanks to several people. I am proud to say that my friend and brother in Christ, Coach Timmy Smith, is one of those people.” Coach Bell indicates he will be dedicating the upcoming basketball season to the memory of Coach Tim Smith. About his own coaching, Tim wrote the following:

A Coach's Whistle:

Most see the whistle as a way to get your athletes attention or to stop play. It does that indeed. But it's so much more. It's a powerful tool for coaches. Even more so, a powerful responsibility. You see... As a coach... Once you blow that whistle... It gives you an opportunity to impact an athlete's life. Once you blow that whistle... You have your athletes full attention. You can criticize. You can yell. You can point out their faults. As a coach, you have that power. You can encourage. You can teach. You can motivate. As a coach, you have that power. Once you blow that whistle, it's up to you how you impact your athletes.

It took me years to realize the impact a coach has on his athletes. I regret that. Although I had a positive impact on a lot of athletes, I mostly think of the ones that I failed. Several years ago, I realize that it wasn't about winning. I hung a crucifix next to my a reminder of the power of my whistle. It was about using my position as a coach as a vehicle to impact my athletes. To build self teach life represent being a Christian with integrity and work ethic. Although it wasn't about winning, I strived every day to win for the influence. Everybody loves a winner. Athletes and parents will follow a winner. Influence to make a impact life's. If only I would have known the power of that whistle a lot sooner. Now that I know, I'm no longer able to coach. It saddens me. I chose to share this... just maybe, it will save others from having regrets as well.

Smith also enjoyed cooking. He participated in the Caruthersville Chili Cookoff and the Backyard BBQ, where his cooking skills won him awards. After his diagnosis, Smith would often comment about his favorite recipes and foods. In an online post Smith shared, “Chicken and dumplings time! I sure miss cooking. Cooking has always been my passion. To have all these recipes in my head and not be able to cook tears at my inner soul. Thank God, I have Pam, my home health aid. She is my arms and legs. I tell her step by step....and she does all the work. I love being in the kitchen...even if I can only watch. I can still stir!!! Not for long, but I'll take it. By the way....Dumplings were MONEY!”

He enjoyed good natured teasing and often found a pet name for students and co-workers alike. Staff and students alike were fair game for his humor and good-natured teasing. He would often be heard calling students “Scrub”. With staff, he would ‘pick a fight’ over a sports team or who was better at cooking, ping pong, or just who stood the longest at lunch duty. He was always competitive, but in a way that was good natured and fun. He was about relationships. He liked to build relationships in order to influence kids on and off the court.

Even after his diagnosis, he continued teaching and coaching though his many Facebook posts. Each was uplifting, full of wisdom and seldom showed the struggles he faced daily.When he was teaching, he made light of his issues when his arm started giving him trouble, always wanting to put on the strong face. His wife said that even as he was struggling to breathe, he would write Facebook posts to his students, friends and family. Posts of love and encouragement, never fully showing others the struggles that were a daily reality for him. He lived past the projected time doctors gave him, it was obvious that Tim was not ready to leave. He stayed positive right to the very end. Elizabeth said, “Tim kept his spirits up with a strong faith in God, he felt his mission was to reach out to others, to inspire them through messages of hope and faith. The last outing we made was to drive to Cape Girardeau to visit his cousin who had just had a heart attack at a football game. He continuously was thinking of others and what they needed. The weeks before he passed, he was saying he was so exhausted he couldn't go on. He was saying if God was willing, he was ready to go. But he still typed messages to his sister and brother hours before his death saying how much he loves them. Wrote his daughter a very nice message, full of love, just prior to passing away. On his first hospitalization, Tim drew his signature flower and developed the phrase "broken but strong in faith"--this message has resonated throughout his family and friends. He would want his message to be "Keep the faith, never give up,-stay strong in your faith".”