Charles Smith

Editor's note: This is the eighth in a series of stories on the 2019 inductees to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Induction ceremonies are Saturday night in Natchitoches.

Early in his career, Charles Smith was not sure if he would get to 100 wins.

But, to be sure, there were a lot more than that to come.

Now with more than 1,000 victories and seven LHSAA state basketball titles under his belt for Peabody Magnet in Alexandria, Smith will receive another illustrious honor Saturday when he’s inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

Born just north of Alexandria on May 15, 1949 as the oldest of seven children, Smith credits his upbringing in making him the man he is today.

While he would eventually become one of the best high school basketball coaches in Louisiana, or anywhere else, Smith’s first love was baseball.

Introduced to the game in the sixth grade after watching a local Negro League team play every Sunday after church, Smith earned a baseball scholarship to Paul Quinn College and became the first member of his family to attend and graduate from college.

Even though he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, his career never materialized.

Still, it became the start of something special when he moved back to Central Louisiana to become a teacher and basketball coach.

In the first four years of his career, he taught two years each at Slocum and Pineville High School, and was an assistant coach at Slocum before it closed due to integration.

One of his first players was Clarence Fields, who would later become the mayor of Pineville for five terms.

His coaching career took off when he accepted a teaching job at Peabody in 1975. That move allowed him to coach, an opportunity that didn’t exist for him at Pineville.

At the time, the Warhorses were coached by Earnest Bowman, who won nearly 400 games and the Class 3A title in 1979.

“He was an outstanding basketball coach and also a math teacher, so academics were first with him,” Smith said of Bowman. “I learned early in my teaching career that you had to be a student-athlete, not just an athlete.

“He was a great Xs and Os man and gave me a chance early by letting me be the junior varsity coach. He also let me make decisions on the varsity team. That helped me advance my ability to coach at the early stages of my career.”

Smith became Bowman’s successor in 1985, finally given the opportunity to become a head coach after turning down an assistant principal position at Bolton High School.

The rest is history.

During his career, more than 60 players have received basketball scholarships — a stat Smith takes much pride in.

Another big number for Smith is seven, as in the number of LHSAA titles he has collected for Peabody.

The Warhorses’ championship collection began in 1991 and he followed that with titles in 2000, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2017.

The 2004 and 2010 teams stand out as they were both 41-0 and ranked nationally in the top five.

Those two teams hold a special place in Smith’s heart as they competed during the summer in the AAU circuit.

“Those two teams bonded together as a family,” he said. “They didn’t spend a minute apart from each other. They were together on and off the basketball court. They challenged each other academically — 75 percent of the boys on those teams were honor roll students.

“They were very competitive … they had that desire and that will to win. They would put themselves out front to do what they had to do in order for the team to win.”

At 1,039 wins, Smith is 32 victories away from surpassing former Southern Lab and Lake Providence coach Joel Hawkins, the Louisiana record-holder with 1,071 wins.

Having won 30 or more games every year since 2000, it’s almost certain Smith can reach that mark late in the 2019-20 season or early in 2020-21.

While stacking up wins, Smith is a father figure to his players and students. He wants the best from them on and off the court. The real victories come after their Peabody days.

“My shining moment,” he said, “is helping these at-risk, underprivileged young men use the game of basketball to obtain countless degrees and become productive members of society.”

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