The stands were full at Highlands’ gymnasium last Saturday evening, where fans and community members came together to honor Butch Smart, long-time head coach of Highlands’ boys basketball team and athletics director. After the Lady Highlanders soundly defeated Tallulah Falls for the second time this year, 52-39, current and former players, school officials, and residents gathered at center court to show their respects to the high school hoops coach who is hanging it up after more than four decades of directing teams from the bench.
Highlands’ High School officials wanted to give Smart a surprise ceremony to fully display their gratitude to the coach who has led the Highlanders basketball team since 1996. Smart has tallied more than 700 career wins in 44 years of coaching high school basketball, a stat which demonstrates Smart’s leadership ability. Word about the ceremony spread via facebook and twitter, media tools coach Smart is not very familiar with, officials said jokingly while praising the ball coach last Saturday night before the boys game tipped off.
Smart began his coaching career in 1968 at Bastrop High School in Bastrop, Louisiana. For one year at Bastrop High, Smart coached JV basketball and was an assistant baseball coach. In 1969, Smart got an opportunity to be the head basketball coach at Dubach High School in Ruston, Louisiana. He coached there for five years and led his team to four district titles. After his stint at Dubach, Smart accepted a head coaching position at Cedar Creek, a private school in Ruston, Louisiana. Smart was able to lead Cedar Creek to three Independent High School championships, and five of his players at Cedar Creek went on to play at the collegiate level.
Smart stayed at Cedar Creek for 10 years before moving on to Quitman High School, taking the school to the district tournament every season. Smart stayed at Quitman High School for three years and decided he wanted to test his coaching repertoire at a larger school in the area. Smart got his wish when he was chosen from a pool of 25 candidates to take the helm at East Ascension High School, a 5A class school in Gonzalez, Louisiana.
Smart went above and beyond at East Ascension, proving he could win at the highest level of high school basketball. In 10 years at the school, he averaged more than 20 wins each season, won ten conference championships, and even made one appearance in the state championship game. Also at East Ascension, Smart managed to help two players progress to play basketball in college, and another player ended up competing in Europe’s professional league.
In 1996, Smart accepted a coaching position at Highlands High School. Smart wanted to raise his then two-year-old daughter, Stephanie, in a safer environment and he believed the community of Highlands was the right place to do so.
Since taking over at Highlands, Smart has led the boys basketball program to three conference championships and an appearance in the state playoffs every season. Smart’s record speaks for itself, but given the fact that many of his former players were on hand to show their support for their old coach is telling, and further speaks to his role as a community leader and public servant for the town of Highlands.
“We haven’t won 30 games a year, but I do believe that each and every opponent we have played respected us, because they knew we were going to be prepared to play and that we were fundamentally sound,” said Smart last Monday afternoon. The coach said he will miss the kids the most, but added “when the ball starts bouncing next October, I’m sure that I’ll miss the teaching of the fundamentals, particularity on defense.” When asked what he was going to concentrate on in retirement, coach Smart stated “Well, I have a 9:00 a.m. tee-time on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. I want to do some fishing and hunting that I have not been able to do since I was a kid. I want to get involved with our Church too. And outside of that, I don’t know what I might do,” he said.
Fittingly, the Highlanders played incredibly hard against Tallulah Falls after they honored coach Smart, applying heavy pressure on defense and efficiently ran their offense to put together 57 points in just four quarters. The coach constantly preaches the fundamentals of defense, so their performance last Saturday evening was not unexpected.
Smart’s Highlanders gave up just two field goals in the second quarter to take a 30-12 lead going into half-time, and the Highlanders did not get complacent with a big lead in the second half. They continued to play hardnosed defense, forcing many turnovers and scoring easy buckets. Coach Smart adds yet another win to his 700 plus career victories, a milestone worthy of recognition.
Even though Highlands forward Isaac Beavers had to sit out through much of the second and third quarters with foul trouble, the Highlanders did not miss a beat in their 40 point scorching of Tallulah Falls. Taylor Osteen led all scorers with 17 points, equaling Tallulah Falls’ points total. Junior lefty Dax Lloyd put up fifteen points for the Highlanders. The 57-17 win made Highlands 6-14 on the season. The team defeated conference rival Nantahala on Jan. 31, to improve to 7-14 overall and 4-1 in conference play.