We lost a great coach and Kansan today with the passing of Coach Smith. Dean Smith graduated from Topeka High in 1949 and went to the University of Kansas, where he played for KU Coach Phog Allen and the team won the NCAA National Championship in 1952 with Bill Lienhard on the team. Bill was a classmate of my dad’s at Newton High. Dad was a part of the golden era of Newton High School basketball, participating in three state tournaments. The railers were champions in 1946, finished third in 1947 and lost a pivotal game in the finals in 1948 to the Topeka High Trojans. Dean Smith played on that Topeka team that unexpectedly beat Newton’s team that year. Ironically, my mother, Katie Eileen Hovorka, at the time lived in Topeka and attended Topeka High alongside Dean Smith. Family legend is that she went to the prom with him when she was a senior and he was a junior. Not sure this story is true. If he didn’t, it was his loss.
While Dean went to KU with Bill Lienhard, my dad was recruited by K-State, played one year, but then transferred to Washburn University in Topeka where he met and married my mother on a most fortunate day for our family.
In 2000, Dean Smith was named Kansan of the Year by the Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas. My dad was invited to attend his induction. Afterwards, the two briefly discussed the game back in 1948 and the outcome. Coach Smith couldn’t help but give Dad another dig, with his dry Kansas humor, even though 50 years had passed. His autograph notes “Best Wishes to a great Newton Player who beat us except in the 9th – Dean Smith.” My husband, RM, is also a Topeka High graduate. When we met in 1981, he told me that Dean Smith’s dad was a substitute teacher in several of his classes at Topeka High. He chuckled that Mr. Smith always had a copy of Sports Illustrated in hand and a story to share about his boy, Dean.
Chapel Hill and Kansas lost a great one today but one that left behind a legacy of great basketball coaches and teachers including Roy Williams and Mark Turgeon as well as many young men who went onward after basketball to productive lives as doctors, attorneys, executives, ministers, teachers, coaches, military officers and in many other walks of life. Coach Smith used basketball to reach a far better outcome than winning the game. Rest in peace, Coach Smith.