AURORA | The snow will likely stick around on the tennis courts at Utah Park a little more from now on, but Woodie Smith’s legacy will live on there.
Smith — a beloved longtime Aurora teacher, administrator and coach at Overland High School adjacent — spent more than three decades on those courts as a coach, giving his all for as long as he could until he died in March following a lengthy battle with cancer at 72.
On Sunday, Smith was immortalized at Utah Park at a crowded ceremony filled with family, friends and old players commemorating the City of Aurora-run facility, dubbed the Woodie M. Smith Tennis Center. It was an apt honor for a place that Smith spent much of his time, doing what he could to keep it in fine shape while at the same time administering life lessons to his athletes.
“When it snowed, it would not be unusual to see Woodie Smith out here trying to clear the court so there could be a practice session,” current Overland boys and girls tennis coach Arlandus Lowe — who worked with Smith for 36 years — recalled with a smile.
“I remember the first time he called me out and said, ‘Hey, Coach, let’s go clear a court,'” he added. “I thought he was kidding me. He wasn’t kidding me, and we cleared courts in the snow. From taking care of the wind screens to fixing up a gate door, I was just amazed at how much time that man spent on these courts. We were out here a lot together.”
The large gathering included several generations of Overland players in a few cases, according to Lowe as he surveyed the crowd. The care Smith put into the courts that now bears his name was just a drop in the bucket of his impact.
First-year Overland athletic director Karl Buck was on hand to speak at the event, though he only knew Smith from a few meetings when he was coaching tennis at Mountain Range High School and his teams would come down to scrimmage.
It was hard for Buck or anybody to miss the tangible proof of Smith’s legacy.
“You want to live a life of service like Woodie,” Buck said. “You want to be somebody who, when they say things about your service, they said you were dedicated and you pushed them and you made them grow. You don’t necessarily need a place named after you, but you want to have that kind of impact.
“Everyone here today on a beautiful Sunday afternoon took time out of their weekend, which people value, and they wanted to come here because of that.”
Lowe first got connected with Smith 36 years ago when he was hired as Overland’s head basketball coach and asked Smith — who had also applied for the job — to be part of his staff.
It was the beginning of a friendship and coaching partnership that was part of the backbone of an athletic program that began when the school opened in 1978.
The duo never sugar-coated things with their players — who were mostly of the seasonal variety, meaning they only played the sport for three months in the fall and not year-round — and many stayed with the sport because of them.
They also never cared about the wins or losses as much as how each individual turned out on and off the court.
“Woodie never gave up on anybody; he was going to push you to become the best athlete you could be, but it was more important to Woodie that you show some sense of respect, dignity and pride,” Lowe said. “I always felt that, even from the time I met Woodie, I had to earn his respect. Once I had it, he would do anything for you. He wasn’t going to give it freely, you had to show that you were deserving of it and I really respected that in Woodie.”
While Lowe was sad to see Smith pass, he was also glad his pain ended.
“It’s not that I wanted him gone, but I didn’t like the state that he had fallen into because of the cancer,” Lowe said. “So I’m happy for him, but it was extremely tough.”
Smith was survived by a large family, including his wife, Holly Harper-Smith, who was in attendance at the ceremony.
A memorial scholarship fund in Smith’s name is currently in place at Overland.
— Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports