Ernie Smith is one of eight new members of the TSSAA Hall of Fame. He will be officially inducted April 14. Smith is also a member of the Lipscomb Athletics Hall of Fame (1999) as both an athlete and for his meritorious service. He has been coaching at Lipscomb Academy for 38 years and has directed his baseball teams to seven state titles and his girls’ basketball team to one state championship. His baseball teams have won 865 games and his girls’ basketball teams have more than 870 victories. Smith is busy this week as his girls basketball team at Lipscomb Academy participates in the district tournament. The team has already qualified for regional tournament play as well. He took a break from preparations for the next game to talk with Lipsconbsports.com.
What years did you play baseball at Lipscomb? Who were your coaches?
“I played from 1969 through 1973 for Coach Ken Dugan. The assistant coaches were Al Austelle and Roy Pardue.
“I started at Lipscomb in the seventh grade. Coach Dugan was already a legend here in Nashville. I was glad I got the opportunity to go to the university to play.
“I remember coming over and watching games back in the early 1960s at Onion Dell. Lipscomb was a big deal.
“Coach Dugan told me I was on the team. I walked on and never had a scholarship.
“I was a utility infielder. I got to play some shortstop and second base my first year. I got to play third base a lot. I wasn’t a starter but for two years I got to play a lot.”
What is your fondest athletic memory at Lipscomb?
“Of course, I remember the year we were the `Miracle Bisons’ in 1971. That was a really fun year. We got a chance to go to the NAIA World Series in Phoenix, Arizona.
“We got beat the first game. We got put in the loser’s bracket. We had to come back. We had three or four games where we had to come back in the last inning to win. In the championship game we had the winning runs on base with one out. John Paul Matthews was our last out and he hit a ball to the fence in left field that was caught. We finished second.
“The whole four years were fun. We were in the finals of the regions all those years. Things went to another level during that time and it wasn’t because of me. It was fun to be around it and be along for the ride. Our group still gets together and talks about the good times.”
Who had the biggest influence on you during your athletic career at Lipscomb? How?
“Coach Dugan was a strong individual. You had to toe the line. You wanted to play for him. You wanted to do the best you could for him.
“He was so well thought of. People respected what he said. The players knew he was telling them what they needed to know about baseball and life too for that matter.
“I remember when Butch Stinson joined the team. He was going to Vanderbilt, but something happened to change his mind and he came to Lipscomb. I had been talking to him about playing for Lipscomb. I think when he came to Lipscomb, coupled with the good class that was around him, was when it all started coming together.
“Looking back on it, it was a learning experience. You learn so much from being around the program and Coach Dugan. You see yourself using so many of the things you were taught here. It is still not old.
“It is still about fundamentals which Coach Dugan was so big on doing. I see myself doing the same things with my team.
“I appreciated Coach Dugan for all he did. I think he did a lot to help me get the job over here (at Lipscomb Academy) when it came open.”
What is your fondest non-athletic memory from your time at Lipscomb?
“There were so many people that I knew from being here in Nashville and being a member of the Church of Christ. There were so many members of the faculty I may have gone to church with or my family knew.
“I think back to all of the respect we had for the teachers here. It really was a family feeling that you had on campus. You felt good about your teachers and you knew they were trying to help you.
“They used to promote that you were not a number in the classroom. There was a lot of one-on-one counseling if you needed help.
“In those days everybody went to chapel. After chapel you would go to the student center and socialize. Everybody was in there. After chapel it would be so packed that you could hardly walk through there.”
What is the most valuable thing you gained or learned from your time at Lipscomb?
“From a coaching aspect I was very, very fortunate to play under an excellent coach and an excellent man in Coach Dugan.
“Every year we would have a big party at his house. We would meet his wife and children. Willard Collins was always there too. So you got to meet his family and the leaders of the school.
“I can still remember every day in chapel Willard Collins was always talking about it being about more than just school. He always stressed that they were preparing us for the rest of our lives and for eternity. As you get older that really sinks in and you realize that what he was saying was the truth.”
Who was your favorite professor? Why?
“I am not sure that I had him in class, but one person I saw every day was ‘Fessor (Eugene) Boyce. Whenever you were in McQuiddy you always saw him. He was such a good man. I think of him a lot. I went to school with his daughter, Nancy.
“I had Dr. Marlin Connelly for Bible classes. He is a great man. If it was a pretty spring day, and we had a baseball game, we were getting out of class early.
“I also remember Dr. Carroll Ellis, Dr. Batsell Barrett Baxter and Dr. Cliett Goodpasture as Bible teachers. They were all good people.
“I majored in health and physical education and I remember Dr. Duane Slaughter and Tom Hanvey. They were both great men.
“All of them were like pillars of the school. They were there for so long.
“I didn’t have Dr. Axel Swang for classes but I remember what a great baseball fan he was.”
Where do you live now?
“We live in Franklin, Tennessee.
Who is your employer? What is your occupation? What does your position entail?
“I work at Lipscomb Academy. I have been there 38 years.
“I coached together with Frank Bennet. He took over the middle school girls’ team. I wasn’t coaching full-time then. I was working for my father. But I helped Frank with the team.
“Frank moved up to the varsity team and I helped him until he took over as the women’s coach at Lipscomb University. I took over the girls’ team. That was in 1980.
“I took over the baseball program in 1978 when Coach (Buck) Dozier left.
“I was at the right place at the right time. I feel like God did that. We have had some great players through the years. It has been fun. I am not sure I would have been as successful and enjoyed it like I have if I had been somewhere else.
“I teach health as well.”
Tell us about your family.
“I am married to Regina (Atnip) Smith. We have been married 31 years.
“We have two sons. One, Keith, graduated from Lipscomb Academy in 2011 and is working as a writer in the music business with Sony. He is really enjoying what he is doing.
“Chris, 15, is over at the high school.”
My email address is email@example.com.