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Tammy Smith (now)Humorist and social commentator Will Rogers once said he's never been lost, but there have been times he did not know where he was.
Tammy Smith was not quite sure where her life was headed on Monday, March 8, 2010, when she was told by Lafayette College officials that after nine years, her services as coach of the Leopards' women's basketball team no longer were needed.
"I was uncertain as to the direction my life was going to go," she recalled. "After doing this for 27 years, it was all I thought I really knew."
Like millions of her fellow Americans who found themselves unemployed, she got busy networking and doing all the right things to get back on her feet. Opportunity knocked in the form of a phone call from a former rival.
"I received a call from Mary Beth Spirk (the coach at Moravian College) asking me if I wanted to be interim athletic director at a county college in New Jersey. A good friend of hers was hired as president and she needed someone to fill the AD position," Smith said.
"At first I was a little apprehensive," Smith remembered. "I had never been an athletic director before, but being involved in athletics for as many years as I have, I was able to pick up some things of how and how not to be an administrator."
After interviewing with President Dr. Margaret McMenamin (a former assistant girls basketball coach at Allentown Central Catholic) Smith accepted the interim AD position at Union County College.
This past August, Smith was promoted to Dean of College Life and now is responsible for all student activities and the Student Government Association at Union, in addition to athletics.
"Dr. McMenamin understands the impact athletics has on the overall development of students and wants to provide the best in the classroom, on the college campus and in the sport they love," Smith said.
"Some of the students here come from nothing and have nothing," she said, "but they realize the importance of an education to make their lives better."
Recalling her North Warren years, Smith said, "I couldn't have asked for a better experience for my first head coaching position. I knew from the start it was going to be important to gain their respect and once I got that, I would be able to turn them into winners." She described her players as "gutsy, committed, and very hard working. They were like sponges, always wanted to learn."
Among Smith's players were two future North Warren head coaches, Sandy Toronzi (Express-Times Coach of the Year in 2000) and Jill Masker, the present Patriots' coach.
"I was new to coaching, but was confident, because I set out to do everything the way Tammy did," said Toronzi, who took a 7-17 group which had several promising sophomores and made them a section finalist in 1999 and state finalist in 2000.
Like David Letterman, Smith has a Top 10 List. Hers is the Top 10 things she looked for when recruiting a player for the college level.
10. Plays for the love of the game.
9. Respects teammates, coaches, officials and opponents.
8. Team player, not concerned with individual statistics and glory.
7. Willing to make sacrifices.
6. Understands the game.
5. Loves to play defense.
4. Plays hard, gives it 100 percent effort.
3. Comes from a winning program.
2. Has athletic ability.
1. Student first.
"I do miss the teaching aspect of coaching," Smith said, but otherwise has no regrets. "I actually had the opportunity to remind the men's team at UCC, during a practice, of how to play defense. It was great, they were receptive, respectful and listened. They told me I should coach again and now they have to call me coach and not Miss Tammy."
Smith is busy expanding the athletic options for students at Union. A softball team will compete in the Garden State Athletic Conference this spring and a women's soccer team will take the field in the fall. She also is putting together a men's lacrosse program which she hopes to initiate in the spring of 2013.
"My days are long," she said. "Some are like a whirlwind, but at the end of the day, I know I made a difference in a student's life."
"Catching Up With" is a weekly online feature that runs Sundays on lehighvalleylive.com. The subjects are former local high school or collegiate athletes who no longer live in the region. If you have an idea about an athlete you would like to see profiled, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good for her - it was never an issue of character. Sounds like she's in a good place.
Yep. I thought that was the same Tammy Smith. A friend of mime was an adjunct at Union County College. She tole me that the former AD got into some "inappropriate behavior" trouble, apparently, and Tammy was brought on as interim AD. It looks as if she has done well. Good luck to Tammy.