Gym renaming to honor former Pantherette

By Rick Mauch

Sharon Smith loved coaching at Reed Junior High. Now, the very gym floor where she created so many memories will bear her name.

   The Duncanville School District will name the floor in the Reed Middle School Gymnasium in the late coach's honor. She spent 31 years thereafter returning to her hometown to coach.

   Smith passed away on Dec. 29, 2021. She made so many friends and influenced so many students during her 77 years of living.

   The ceremony to honor Smith is set for May 24 at 2 p.m. at the DISD Administration Building.

   "Sharon had a heart as big as her talent. She knew how to coach a group of girls, seventh and eighth grade, the fundamentals of the game," said Marilyn Smith (no relation), her friend of almost five decades. "She knew basketball, and she had the skills, technique, and personality to teach, coach, and mold a group of 13- and 14-year-old girls that knew nothing about the game on how to be the best player they could be.  

   "Her success and knowledge gave her athletes the tools they needed to go to the high school and play on the ninth-grade, junior varsity, and the Duncanville Pantherettes varsity team."

   Smith's players advanced to help the Pantherettes' varsity become some of the most renowned teams in the history of Texas - even the nation. The program won 134 straight games from 1987-91, one of the longest winning streaks in the nation's history.

   Coach Smith graduated from Duncanville in 1962, being a basketball standout herself and helping the Pantherettes to the state tournament. She went on to play basketball at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas.

   She landed her first job as a teacher and coach for Stephenville Junior High, kicking off a 36-year career in junior high teaching and coaching. Then, she came home.

   "Sharon grew up in Duncanville. She was an avid supporter of the community, the students, and the school district," Marilyn Smith said. "Her family was very involved in the school district and the community. No one deserves this honor more than she does.

   "In all the time that I knew Sharon, hardly a day went by that I didn't see her or talk to her on the phone. I helped her with the cheerleaders when she was the sponsor. We would drive our cars to the games, and pile all six cheerleaders in the cars with their pom poms, megaphones, books, etc.  There was no bus transportation at that time for the cheerleaders.  

   "I was also the yearbook sponsor, so I would take pictures of the players and students."

   Smith also coached girls track, with many of her athletes going on to success at state and beyond. In addition, she coached junior high volleyball, with many of her players being a part of the Pantherettes' 1995 state championship squad.

   But she did much more than coach.

   "Whenever we had a pep rally in the Muldrew Gym, Sharon would paint dozens of signs. I was amazed at how she thought up so many clever phrases to write on those signs," Marilyn said. "We would have a skit at the pep rally, and she would get the teachers to participate. Students love to see their teachers look silly."

   Coach Smith received the first-ever Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) Sponsors Award that was subsequently named for her. 

   "Coach Smith began the first Fellowship of Christian Athletes for junior high girls in the nation – right here in this gym was the first meeting," said Renee Rodgers, a member of the Pantherettes' first state championship team in 1976.

   "Lots of Christmas parties and Valentine parties were thrown on the floor for her PE students and athletes, along with many FCA meetings and end-of-school parties. So many hugs were given, many tears were shed, and lots of laughter bounced off this floor," Rodgers added.

   "No one has spent more time in this gym and on this floor than Coach Smith. She went to school and played on this gym floor in both junior high and high school. She continued to play basketball here even after high school – when she was playing for Oauchita Baptist Universityand they played games here."

   And it was on that same floor a special bond was formed with her teammates, coaches, players and students.

   "Coach Smith loved her students so much she was an anonymous donor at First National Bank for a standing $100 loan for anyone who was in need, even though she never had $100 herself," her sister, Denyce Inmon, wrote in Coach Smith's obituary.    

   Rodgers also recalled that, for many years, the gym was not air-conditioned. 

   "She endured the heat, with large fans blowing in the corners. She put her ball players through rigorous workouts and expected everyone to give their best in spite of the heat, and every year she expected more of herself," Rodgers said.

   Marilyn noted that Coach Smith was also "an amazing speaker."  

   "She was so interesting and funny. She knew how to hold an audiences attention. No one ever went to sleep during one of her speeches," Marilyn said with a smile. "Many of her stories were so funny.  She could tell a story and most of the time it was about herself and something funny that had happened to her."

   Even after retiring in 2003, Coach Smith remained very active and popular in the community.

   "In retirement, Coach spent her time socializing with her fellow retired teachers, organizing her DHS alumni friends, watching Morgan and Maddy (grandchildren) grow up, sending out cards in the thousands, honking at garage doors for everyone to come out and entertain her, talking on the phone until the wee hours of the morning, coaching the Mavericks and Cowboys from her living room, drinking her Diet Dr Pepper, being a member of her beloved Progressors Sunday School class, and stressing over her 500-plus Christmas cards starting every August,"  Inmon wrote.

   "She had a surprise birthday party in this gym – because it was the only thing big enough for everyone invited," Rodgers said.

   And she continued to support her beloved Pantherettes in retirement, attending many of their games at home and on the road.

   "Many times Sharon, Carol Bain, my late husband, Dwain, and I would ride together," Marilyn said. "She was a Pantherette forever. She would go to Austin whenever the girls were playing for the state championship.

   "What else can I say except that she was one of the most amazing persons I have ever known. She was an incredible daughter, sister, friend, teacher, coach, and mentor. I miss her each and every day."