Players, colleagues fondly recall Edward Smither

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Over the past few months, Edward Smither watched his school’s field hockey team tear through the Southeastern District in its third perfect season in four years. Last week, the Lakeland High athletic director found that his daughter Katelyn had been named the District and Eastern Region Player of the Year for the second straight year. Last Friday night, Smither watched his football team finish out the fall sports season with a 52-0 win, its biggest victory of his 10-year tenure and the first district win in two seasons.

About 24 hours later, Smither was gone. On Saturday night at a softball party, he suffered what was believed to have been a heart attack and died at Obici Hospital. On Monday afternoon, the Lakeland community tried to cope with its loss.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;The one thing that stood out about Ed was that he was always willing to help,&uot; said principal Thomas Whitley, who first met Smither when the pair were rival football coaches back in the late 1980s. &uot;He was always someone we could depend on. We never had to worry about whether the fields were marked or the grass was cut.

&uot;The only thing we can hope is to carry on his legacy,&uot; Whitley said. &uot;We’ll try to do things the way he did them. Ed wouldn’t want us to grieve for too long; he’d want us to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and move on. We know he’s in a better place.&uot; Last week, Smither was given the Star award by the city school board, which is presented each quarter to two individuals who have given extraordinary service to Suffolk schools.

When she first started at Lakeland three years ago, Smither helped Kathy Landas learn the basics of high school.

&uot;He was my mentor,&uot; said Landas, a chorus instructor. &uot;He was always calm and funny. No matter what had to be done, he was on top of it. In my three years, I never saw him sit down. We’ll need 10 people to replace him.&uot;

Several Lakeland students were notified of Smither’s passing at their ring dance on Saturday.

&uot;All we knew at first was that he was in the hospital,&uot; said Kelsey Cutchins. &uot;Then my parents came and told me he had died. Everybody was crying and you could tell that everyone was shocked.

&uot;The last thing that I remember is when he drove us to our last game,&uot; said Cutchins, a member of the school’s field hockey team. &uot;He told us that we’d fought hard.&uot;

On Sunday afternoon, Ashley McCord went to Lakeland to practice with the Tidewater Stars field hockey team, which will head to Florida next week to play in a national tournament. Looking at the sidelines, she realized that someone who had been cheering for her for the past four years at Lakeland wouldn’t be coming back.

&uot;It’s weird knowing that he’s not going to be there,&uot; said McCord, who played recreational league softball on Smither’s teams for six years. &uot;He’d stand on the sidelines watching us. He wanted the best for us all the time. He looked after us and made sure that we were all doing all right.&uot;

Aided by a steady stream of visitors back at their home off South Quay Road, Smither’s family tried to deal with their loss.

&uot;He gave (to Lakeland) because of what he got from it,&uot; said Donna, married to Smither for 19 years. &uot;It wasn’t because he got paid or anything else. He was truly a great person. He molded lives through what he taught. I have no doubt that my children will be successful in life, and a lot of that is due to what he taught them. Every time they step on a playing field, they’ll hear him.&uot;

This fall, Katelyn will head to Old Dominion University, which her dad attended.

&uot;He was always encouraging us to do our best,&uot; she said. &uot;The toughest part will probably be him not being there.&uot;

&uot;It’s going to be hard,&uot; said Smither’s youngest daughter Kelsey, 11. &uot;The next time I hit a home run, he won’t be there.&uot;