By Crystal Burns
In a touching video tribute, the Peabody High School football program honored Gazette Sports Editor Gary Smith with two simple words of admiration, “Thanks, Gary.”
Smith, covering the 2019 football team’s banquet and championship ring presentation ceremony Saturday night, was surprised to learn he was on the program under the fitting header of Special Presentation.
Peabody head coach Shane Jacobs began the introduction by declaring Smith as his favorite man in Trenton.
“He works tirelessly to make sure our kids are fairly recognized,” Jacobs said, adding that Smith epitomizes what the soon-to-be-established Ring of Honor represents.
The preamble led Smith to believe he would soon be making pictures of Jacobs with someone else, Smith later joked.
“I was shocked,” Smith said. “I didn’t have a clue.”
Jacobs enlisted the help of former Tidemen Kendal Harper (Class of 2008) and Peyton Harper (Class of 2004), former head coach/current Director of Schools Tim Haney, school board member and Peabody alumna Dee Ann McEwen, and athletic booster and alumna Suzanne Hickerson to share their memories of Smith’s 41 years on the sidelines.
“Gary was going to always shine us in a positive light,” Haney said. “Gary saw and heard everything from that program from a practice point of view, on the sidelines during games, and a lot of stuff happens. Positive and negative stuff happens, and Gary always kept the light on the positive.”
Peyton Harper said whether their performance on the field was good or bad, Smith made a habit of lifting up the student-athletes he covered.
“It didn’t matter what kind of game you had,” he said. “You could have a good game and you come off the field, Mr. Gary was the first one to offer you praise. If you had a bad game, he was the first one off the field to offer you encouragement.”
A 1974 Peabody graduate, Smith played baseball, basketball, football, and track. At Lambuth College, he played tennis and worked as a student Sports Information Director. Smith earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Journalism in 1978. He joined the staff of his hometown newspaper in September 1978.
Smith was inducted into the Gibson County Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 as a contributor. In an article written by Steve Short, Smith explained how playing high school sports influenced his coverage.
“I didn’t play as much sometimes as I would have liked to, but my experience being around the coaches made me appreciate the team aspect of the game instead of the star aspect,” Smith said. “I saw how the team helped the star to have a big game.”
In covering football, Smith pairs action shots of the team’s more recognizable names and faces with views of the offensive and defensive linemen playing less heralded but critical roles in the trenches. Parents often request photos of their players, and Smith does his best to deliver, recognizing that his clippings will be pasted in scrapbooks and fondly reviewed for years to come.
“Professional yet down to earth has always been Gary’s approach to reporting,” Kendall Harper noted. “While the price of the paper has changed since Gary first started, it’s impossible to put a price on the memories.”
After the video concluded, Paul Hudson, a Peabody alumnus and assistant football coach, presented Smith with a state championship game ball signed by every member of the 2019 team.
Greg Hammonds’ SBL Media produced the video, which is available for viewing on the Peabody Golden Tide Football Facebook page.