An Eel for life, Smith set to join Martinsville's athletic department

Friday, June 28, 2024
Rodney Smith

Born and raised in Clay City, Rodney Smith has been in the southern part of Clay County for the majority of his life – he spent two years (1991-1993) in Louisville, Kentucky – which included graduating from there in 1985 and then joining the boys basketball coaching ranks in 2002 at Clay City Elementary School and Clay City Junior High School.

Smith remained in those positions until 2015 when he joined Chris Ames’ girls high school basketball staff as an assistant before transitioning from coaching to administration, serving as Clay City High School’s assistant athletic director since 2017.

To put it succinctly, Smith has had his fingerprints on Clay City athletics in some form or fashion for the last four decades.

He bleeds purple.

That’s what made his recent decision to step down from his assistant athletic director position what he described as ‘the hardest in his life.’

“It’s the hardest decision I can ever remember having to make,” said Smith. “The fact that both my children are not at home anymore was a big factor. Chelsey being in Evansville and Bailey being in Louisville did factor in a lot. Clay City has meant everything to me. I would do anything for the school. All I ever wanted to do was to make this school better every year I worked here. I have developed so many friendships and working relationships over the years and knowing that I was, in a way, letting them down by leaving here was so emotional and the hardest thing to get past. The people are what makes this such a great school and when you leave that behind, it is so hard. I had to go back and forth for weeks before I finally made the decision. I could not have asked for better administrators than I have had to work with like Jeff Bell, Shane Reese, Michael Owens and Rachel Kiefer. Central Office staff and Mr. Fritz, Dr. Rayle, Chris Ross and Aron Hammond – who I work closely with – they are all just great to work for. The faculty and staff at Clay City are the best and I will miss them a lot.

“I have had great coaches to work with like Chris Ames, Jason Sinders, Cole Schroer and Bradi Oberholtzer, and I mention them by name simply because I have coached or helped coach with them and have a forever lasting friendship with them,” Smith continued. “I have worked with several other coaches – past and present – and can say even though there were times we all didn’t agree, what we wanted was a program that was for the best interest of the student-athletes. To leave a community behind hurts so bad. The many friendships and support for the community over the years has been over the top. Since this all became public, all the people that have come up to me and told me how much they would miss me at Clay City has been overwhelming. I have had several Athletic Directors from other schools reach out to me as well to say they enjoyed working with me, and I appreciate that so much as well. I can’t thank Scott Buell at Northview enough for all the help he has given me over the past seven years. Even the umpires that I have worked with over the years have been so supportive. It is a collection of all of these people and memories that make this such a difficult decision.”

So, what was it that led to Smith ultimately making the difficult decision to leave Clay City? The chance to work with Jeff Bell at Martinsville High School as the Head of Grounds and Athletic Facilities, which gives him a lighter workload – in terms of hours worked per week – and the chance to be around multiple familiar faces, which includes the new boys basketball coach J.B. Neill.

“Mr. Bell was a big reason this is happening,” said Smith. “We have kept a close friendship since he left Clay City two years ago and he contacted me about this position, thinking it was a great fit for me and for them. I was interested in the outstanding facilities that they have at Martinsville, and I have had some health issues lately, and the fact of working less hours and days was a factor I considered a lot.

“It will be nice to work with J.B. Neill since we both know each other so well and I think that will make the change a little easier for both of us,” Smith continued. “I can only hope that I can build a friendship with him somewhat close to the great friendships that I have built with our coaches at Clay City because they are second to none here.”

With his time at Clay City officially coming to an end on Friday, and with the change sitting at the top of his mind for the last several weeks, Smith has had time to reminisce on his tenure with the Eels.

He’s made countless memories, but there are some that Smith is most proud of.

“We were able to work with our corporation and school boards by making so many improvements to our Athletic Facilities here at Clay City, which came in the form of new scoreboards, new floor, new track equipment, PA systems, volleyball standards in both gyms, stadium chairs and grounds around the school itself. We, along with our coaches, built successful programs by doing things the right way and always looking out for the student-athletes first. I was just happy to be part of that process over the years. The credit goes to our coaches,” said Smith. “The things I will remember most about Clay City is the reaction that schools would have when we would travel during the state tournaments, no matter the sport. I can always remember the community turnouts at pep sessions and games during the state softball run or when we would go to a boys or girls sectional, regional or semi-state games. The comment was always the same, I swear, which was, ‘Is there anyone left in the town of Clay City today?’ This small-town community makes this school great, and I will never forget that. I know that is the big difference that won’t be the same at a larger school like Martinsville.”

Having been in Clay City for all but two years of his life, Smith’s closet is full of purple clothing. And even though that’s an unacceptable color to wear in the Martinsville area due to the rivalry between the Artesians and Bloomington South, Smith will still have plenty of it to wear when he’s not on the school’s premises.

Why? Because that’s the color he will always bleed, no matter where he goes or what job he has.

“Purple is not liked very well at all in Martinsville because of the purple of Bloomington South, so I won’t be wearing it at school, but purple will always be my favorite color and I will always have some in my closet,” Smith said. “Coach Jason Sinders would always comment, ‘There are some of us here at Clay City that will bleed purple for this school.’ And deep down, I hope that I will still do that as well.”

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