Smith sidelined from regionals

First Posted: 3/2/2009

PILOT MOUNTAIN When any long-time coach retires, its likely there could be no better way to bow out than with a big win.
But in the case of East Surry girls basketball coach Robert Smith, despite the fact the Cardinals are still alive in tournament play and scheduled to face Hiawassee Dam in Greensboro Wednesday in the Western Regional semifinal, that final big win has come a little too soon.
Unbeknownst to many, Smith, who was set to retire at the end of this season, coached his final game Friday against rival Mount Airy,
Because of North Carolina Department of Public Instruction stipulations which force retiring teachers to end their tenure at the conclusion of a month and do not allow them to work in any capacity for any other North Carolina institution for six months following their initial retirement, Smith will not be allowed to be on the sidelines for the remainder of the Cardinals season.
Monday, Smith said he thought he might have been able to continue coaching into March, finishing the season without pay, but the decision which he made in September to have February be his final month of teaching is something he was unable to sidestep.
If he were to attempt to coach, Smith said he was informed he could be in danger of losing all retirement payments from the state of North Carolina.
I thought maybe because I had been paid before my retirement, I would be allowed to finish out the season, Smith said. But the state is monitoring that much more closely, so everyone we talked to said I could do it, but if anybody turns you in to the state, I would be at risk of losing my retirement and that was too much risk to take.
The Cardinal players were not told of the change until following their 55-41 win over Mount Airy Friday, and Smith, who showed a bit of emotion in the games aftermath, said in hindsight he may have done things differently, but that it was an all-around tough decision to make.
Thats the biggest regret, that I wont be able to see it through like I would have liked, Smith said. But the kids took it pretty well, and I think they understood. I just told them they need to go down there and play like we have done all year.
Smith said the change on the sidelines will not be dramatic, with assistant coach Wendy Williams staying on and East Surry assistant principal Brent Long taking over head coaching duties for the remainder of the season. He said school and county administration had been aware of the possible circumstances and had created this contingency plan earlier in the year, should the Cardinals have advanced this far.
Long, whose daughter Kelsey is one of the Cardinals top players, was a head girls coach at Alleghany for more than 15 years.
He said he is happy to be with the team, even in such unfortunate circumstances.
Of course, I am excited just to be involved with the team, Long said. They have had an excellent year, and they have all risen to every challenge they have been dealt. Its tough to fill Coach Smiths shoes, and I dont want to do anything that takes away from what he has done this year with them. I am just going to be stepping in due to the circumstances, and we will do everything we can to get them on to the next game.
Long and Smith both are confident in the ability to have a seamless transition strategy wise, with Long saying he knows coach Smith and the Cardinals style well from watching every game and coaching against Smith many times in the past.
Long said the team seemed to respond well during its Saturday afternoon practice following the announcement.
Smith said he will attend Wednesdays game, but said he must be very clear to not have any coaching-related contact with the team whatsoever. While obviously disappointed to not be able to join his team, Smith kept on the bright side.
At least now I can scream at the officials and not have to worry about getting a technical, he said.

Contact Thomas Smith at [email protected] or 719-1920.

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