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Update: Friends, colleagues, players remember Smallwood

July 1st, 2014 7:43 am by Trey Williams

Update: Friends, colleagues, players remember Smallwood

Steve Spurrier and Sidney Smallwood at Science Hill Hall of Fame inaugural induction in January 2007. (Press file photo)

Sidney Smallwood was a coach and athletic director at Science Hill for parts of four decades.

And Smallwood, who died overnight at the age of 98, compiled a substantial list of accomplishments with the Hilltoppers.

The Science Hill Hall of Famer coached two ‘Topper basketball teams to the state tournament, including the Ferrell Bowman-led 1953-54 team that was undefeated before a last-second loss to Memphis Treadwell in the state tournament at Vanderbilt. And Smallwood coached state champions such as Bowman and Bob Taylor in track and field.

But Smallwood was best known as a recruiter, which he’d acknowledge with hearty, infectious laughter.

He was responsible for bringing Steve Spurrier and his older brother Graham to Johnson City from Newport in 1957. He’d seen the Spurriers playing at a summer church camp in North Carolina, and soon had their father, John Graham, a job preaching at Calvary Presbyterian Church.

“I didn’t know about all that that much until later on,” Steve Spurrier told the Johnson City Press on Tuesday. “I think we were at Black Mountain or Montreat, North Carolina and Coach Smallwood was there with maybe the Presbyterian church group. And he saw my brother and I playing ball. I think they had basketball, softball. We played a little bit of everything -- dodgeball.

“And he mentioned to whoever was in charge of finding a new preacher at Calvary Presbyterian Church there in Johnson City, he mentioned to them that there’s a preacher in Newport that might be a good one and this, that and the other. So I think he got my dad the interview and that’s what got us to Johnson City when I was 12 years old.”

Spurrier, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1966 and coached Florida to the national championship in ‘96, has often said moving from Newport at the age of 12 and attending Science Hill was an invaluable benefit that brought better instruction and more exposure in that era.

The past 10-15 years, Smallwood always smiled while mentioning Spurrier paying him a visit when he came to Johnson City, often given Smallwood a cap.

“Brother Graham would take me by to see him when I got to Johnson City several times,” Spurrier said. “And then of course, the functions up at the high school, the new stadium (Kermit Tipton Stadium) and all that -- he was there and I got a chance to visit with him a little bit then.

“Coach Smallwood was just a wonderful person and wonderful man that everybody loved and respected. And he did a lot for Johnson City, that’s for sure. ... He certainly had a wonderful life and was a well-liked person, well respected. Certainly, we all hope to have a long wonderful life like Coach Smallwood did.”

Smallwood still golfed until recently and was a good painter. A kind, compassionate people person, he had to cram all of his regular visitors into a mere 98 years.

Ferrell Bowman and his older brother, Billy Joe, had an enjoyable visit with Smallwood in the past several months.

“I’m so glad we got to see him again,” Ferrell said. “I loved coach Smallwood.”

Ferrell played for the San Francisco Giants in the 1962 World Series. Shortly thereafter, Ferrell said Smallwood invited him to speak at the Langston High School athletics banquet.

Ferrell said Smallwood and coach Paul Christman helped smooth the trail for integration when Langston and Science Hill merged in 1965, not that Bowman needed any assistance.

“I remember coach Smallwood called me and said, ‘You want me to come by and pick you up (for the Langston banquet),’” Bowman said. “I said, ‘It’s just three houses down, coach.’”

Bowman was a state champion high jumper and played on state-tournament baseball teams for John Broyles.

Ferrell’s older brother, Billy Joe, pitched in Science Hill’s state championship game victory in 1947 and went on to Tennessee and a lengthy career in the minors. He won two games and homered while helping the Volunteers finish runner-up in the 1951 College World Series, and casted a long shadow over Ferrell in Smallwood’s eyes.

“Coach Smallwood gave me a chance to play with all those older guys when I came up as a sophomore at Science Hill,” Ferrell said. “Coach seemed to like me and everything, but he pushed me hard. He would always say ‘Billy Joe’ wouldn’t have done it like that. I’d say, ‘Coach, maybe not ... but I’m gonna do it my way.’ And coach would always wiggle them fingers at me and everything.”

Smallwood, who played football at Jonesborough High School and East Tennessee State (1938, ‘39), developed mental and physical toughness in players. Ferrell recalled suffering a hard foul against the wall near the basketball goal at Ketron one night in an era when Bowman said Dickie Warren was capable of aggressive fouls. This particular foul left Ferrell dazed.

“A guy hit me and the wall was real close under the goal,” Bowman said. “Man, it really knocked me senseless and I was lying there ... and Smallwood came over and said, ‘Get up, Jenny. You’re not hurt.’ The guys were always kidding me about having a girlfriend.”

Ferrell competed in basketball, baseball and track and field at Science Hill with Bo Austin, who went on to be named the 1957 Sun Bowl MVP while playing football at George Washington. Austin would often pester Smallwood when the coach was using his starter’s pistol and practicing runners’ starts. One day Smallwood had enough of Austin’s “bang, bang” pointer-finger pistol, and fired the starter’s pistol near an unaware Austin.

“It scared Bo to death,” Ferrell said with a chuckle. “Coach said, ‘I told you to stop it, Bo.’”

Smallwood hired Elvin Little to succeeed Bill Wilkins as basketball coach in 1960. Little rewarded him with a successful, state tournament-filled 20-year era, and then Smallwood hired Little to succeed him as athletic director when Smallwood was named interim superintendent. They were together on Smallwood’s 98th birthday in March.

Little could not have envisioned such a scene when Smallwood and superintendent Howard McCorkle hired him 54 years earlier. Powerful booster F.K. Morris was out of town when Little initially came up from Lenoir City to meet with McCorkle and Smallwood, and Little got an ominous introduction to Morris when he met him at Morris’ funeral home during a follow-up visit.

“I went in there in that funeral home and he was sitting behind that big desk,” Little said. “We talked a few minutes and he said, ‘Now, young man, we didn’t build that gymnasium up there to lose games in.’ He said, ‘We’re bringing you in here to expect you to win.’ I said to myself, ‘Lord, what have I got myself into.’”

But Smallwood, who was at the state tournament when Little coached Lenoir City to a state title in 1958, was actually the quintessential athletic director, Little says. He didn’t micromanage his coaches and often buffered them from administrators, boosters and parents.

“Sid never interfered with you running your program,” Little said. “He always allowed you to run your program and make your decisions. And if you ever did get into any kind of a problem or trouble, Sid always tried to help you out of that. ... You know, a lot of these people in leadership roles will throw you to the dogs when the wolves start to howl. ... Sid would support you.”

Smallwood began as AD in 1957, if not earlier.

“I don’t know that they had an atletic director before him,” said Little, who noted many coaches Smallwood hired. Among them were Kermit Tipton, Christman, Bob “Snake” Evans, Emory Hale, Bob May, “Little” Bob Evans, Keith Lyle, Dennis Greenwell, Duard Aldridge, Tony Farace, Ray Judy and Charlie Bailey.

Little said he got a call from businessman John Howren concerning Smallwood’s death Tuesday. Howren is apparently having trouble recovering from back surgery.

“John said, ‘I’ll tell you one thing. If I have to get in a wheelchair I’m gonna go to that funeral,’” Little said. “And that pretty well sums up what people thought of Sidney, I think. I don’t know anyone that didn’t like Sid Smallwood or didn’t respect him.

“He was Science Hill athletics for a long time ... and we were all very successful during a lot of those years. He was Mr. Science Hill as far as I’m concerned.”

Funeral arrangements were incomplete at press time.

Reported at 7:43 a.m.:

Sidney Smallwood was a coach and athletic director at Science Hill for parts of four decades.

And Smallwood, who died overnight at the age of 98, assembled a substantial list of accomplishments with the Hilltoppers.

The Science Hill Hall of Famer coached two 'Topper basketball teams to the state tournament, including the Ferrell Bowman-led 1953-54 team that was undefeated before a last-second loss to Memphis Treadwell in the state tournament at Vanderbilt. He coached state champions such as Bowman and Bob Taylor in track and field.

But Smallwood was best known as a recruiter, which he'd acknowledge with hearty, infectious laughter.

Smallwood was responsible for bringing Steve Spurrier and his older brother Graham to Johnson City from Newport in 1957. He'd seen the Spurriers playing at a summer church camp in North Carolina, and soon had their father, John Graham, a job preaching at Calvary Presbyterian Church.

"I didn't know about all that that much until later on," Steve Spurrier told the Johnson City Press on Tuesday. "I think we were at Black Mountain or Montreat, North Carolina and Coach Smallwood was there with maybe the Presbyterian church group. And he saw my brother and I playing ball. I think they had basketball, softball. We played a little bit of everything -- dodgeball.

"And he mentioned to whoever was in charge of finding a new preacher at Calvary Presbyterian Church there in Johnson City, he mentioned to them that there's a preacher in Newport that might be a good one and this, that and the other. So I think he got my dad the interview and that's what got us to Johnson City when I was 12 years old."

Spurrier, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1966 and coached Florida to the national championship in '96, has often said moving from Newport at the age of 12 and attending Science Hill was an invaluable benefit that brought better instruction and more exposure in that era.

Smallwood always smiled while mentioning Spurrier stopping by when he visited Johnson City in the summertime, often giving Smallwood a hat.

"Brother Graham would take me by to see him when I got to Johnson City several times," Spurrier said. "And then of course, the functions up at the high school, the new stadium (Kermit Tipton Stadium) and all that -- he was there and I got a chance to visit with him a little bit then.

"Coach Smallwood was just a wonderful person and wonderful man that everybody loved and respected. And he did a lot for Johnson City, that's for sure. ... He certainly had a wonderful life and was a well-liked person, well respected. Certainly, we all hope to have a long wonderful life like Coach Smallwood did."

Smallwood served as athletic director and interim school superintendent as part of a long career with Johnson City Schools.

He began his coaching career in 1944 coaching junior high sports. He started coaching Science Hill basketball in 1947 and took two teams to the state tournament until leaving the sport in 1957. Smallwood was athletic director during integration, and the coaching tenures of legends Elvin Little, Kermit Tipton and Snake Evans.

He was known for bringing Steve Spurrier's family to Johnson City from Newport when a preaching position opened in 1957 for Graham Spurrier.

Smallwood was later chairman of the Johnson City Parks and Recreation Board.

Keep visiting JohnsonCityPress.com for more on Smallwood.

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