This story is the first in a series recognizing the 2014 Chamber of Commerce award winners.
When Bernard Smalley was recently presented with the “Citizen of the Year” award by the Springfield-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, it was a validation of sorts for a man who has spent nearly his entire life in Washington County.
Born and raised in WC, Smalley grew up in what he calls a “sports-related family.”
His older brothers were often playing some type of sport outside in the yard, and for Smalley, this meant that he “had to follow suit” as soon as he was old enough to participate.
This lifelong interest in sports led Smalley to play five years of high school baseball and four years of basketball at WCHS. He would then go on to play a year of college baseball at Cumberland College in Lebanon, Tenn. before a back injury would end his college career.
But the groundwork had already been laid. This would only be the start of Smalley’s involvement in the sports world.
“Sports always came to me pretty easily,” Smalley said. “I’ve always been involved in them, and I’ve never really known anything else.”
His father, Clay, coached football and basketball at St. Dominic Elementary School, and after coming back to Springfield, Smalley helped him in any way he could.
This was his first taste of coaching, something that would be a continuing theme throughout Smalley’s life.
“That was when I first realized how much I enjoyed working with kids, teaching them about the game,” Smalley said.
Smalley would eventually take over for his father at St. D for a few years. From there, he slowly began helping in some capacity with several high school sports: baseball, softball, boys’ basketball and girls’ basketball.
And, in 2006, he took over as the head girls’ basketball coach at WCHS, a position he still holds today.
Since his time in charge, the team has been district runners-up in four seasons and won the Region 5 Class-A championship in the 2010-2011 season, a moment that Smalley said he’ll always remember from his time coaching.
“Winning Class-A region was a great feeling for those kids,” Smalley said. “Seeing the looks on their faces when they won, that’s what it’s all about for a coach.”
For Smalley, one of the most rewarding parts of coaching is when a former player comes back to Washington County and tells him how they are doing.
He says that he has a solid relationship with “about 99 percent” of his former players, something he believes is motivated by the fact that he teaches his student-athletes about more than just X’s and O’s.
“I try to help the players learn a lot about life, not only basketball,” Smalley said. “When they come back, and tell you what they’re doing, tell you that you had an impact on their life, that’s the most important thing for me as a coach. I just think it’s a coach’s job to get their players prepared for life outside of sports.”
Smalley’s crowning achievement in coaching, though, was being able to coach his step-daughter, Paula Lassiter, as an assistant in softball and watching her earn a scholarship to Lindsey Wilson College.
“That’s one of my major accomplishments, getting to see up close how hard she worked to get a college scholarship,” Smalley said.
In addition to his duties as a basketball coach, Smalley is also the director of Idle Hour Park in Springfield. He has held this position since 1994.
Smalley worked at the park as a teenager, and as soon as he saw the job was open, he jumped at the chance to apply.
He’s been there ever since.
“It was something I had to take a chance on,” Smalley said. “It was too good to pass up.”
There have been several improvements to the park since his time as director began. A lighted walking trail, new ball fields and new pavilions are only a few of the several upgrades that Idle Hour has seen, but Smalley redirected the praise to Mayor John Cecconi, Mayor Mike Haydon and the city council.
“They’ve upgraded the park tremendously,” Smalley said. “I can’t thank them enough for all of their support and help.”
Although this will be his 20th year there, Smalley believes that he has more to give to Idle Hour.
“As long as I continue not to be burned out, I’ll be sticking around to see these kids grow up,” Smalley said.
With all of his commitments, Smalley credits his wife of 16 years, “Shorty” Lassiter, for helping to encourage him and being “the rock in our relationship.”
“She supports me in everything I do,” Smalley said. “Having that support from your better half is major.”
In fact, to keep Smalley off the trail of knowing he had won the Chamber award, he was instructed to find a way to get his wife to the banquet.
It was not until his presenter, Hal B. Goode, mentioned that the next award was going to someone who resembled Hootie from “Hootie and the Blowfish” that he realized he had been duped.
“Everybody always tells me I look like Hootie,” Smalley said. “I had no clue I was going to win that award. They used that reverse psychology on me, and they got me.”
It wasn’t until he turned around and saw a large group of his family members, though, that it began to sink in.
“I am so honored that I received this award,” Smalley said. “I’ve got to thank my parents for raising me the right way. All seven of their kids have been to college. They taught us to say, ‘Yes, sir and no, sir, yes ma’am and no ma’am. That means a lot in this world now. I just feel so blessed.”