As the longtime boys basketball coach at former Southern High School in Baltimore City, Meredith Smith expertly guided the Bulldogs to plenty of wins and championships. All the success came with a message that left a profound impression on the so many he was able to reach.
During his freshman year, Damon Cason, a 1994 Southern graduate, was asked to go into Coach Smith’s office with some other promising newcomers.
“The first thing he told us was knowledge is power. You use basketball as far as you can get, but the knowledge you gain is going to prepare you for everyday life,” said Mr. Cason, a four-year varsity player who went on to play and receive a degree at Towson University. “I was in the ninth grade and came in thinking basketball, but Coach always said to make sure you get your education because that’s going to take you further and faster. He was intelligent, had wisdom, and always stayed on us about our books, and that was a main, main thing that Coach Smith emphasized.”
Mr. Smith, who taught physical education for 40 years and coached at Southern for 21 of them, died of cardiac arrest Fri. Nov. 26 at University of Maryland Medical Center. The Baltimore City resident was 79.
Mr. Smith started his coaching career at Southern in 1981 and finished with a 398-144 record that included a Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference title in 1990 and Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association state titles in 1993, 1994 and 1996. In 2004, he returned to his alma mater, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and served as an assistant coach for three seasons before taking over as interim head coach in the 2007-08 season.
“He’s one of those people that whatever he did, he gave 110 percent to it,” said his son, Ali Smith. “And once he decided that high school basketball is what it was, he went all-in. Most of his players were like family. They weren’t just kids on his team, they were like his children, so like brothers to me. He had a big heart and he was tough.”
One of six children raised in Turner Station in southeast Baltimore County by Osceola Smith, who worked at Bethlehem Steel Corp. in Sparrows Point and was a youth baseball coach, and the former Consuela Evans, a homemaker, Meredith Isaac Smith was raised in Turner Station and graduated from Sollers Point Junior/Senior High in 1960 before getting his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology at UMES in 1964.
He married the former Fredine “Cassie” Sifford in 1975 and the marriage ended amicably in 1985.
Despite never playing any sports in high school or college, Mr. Smith, who has three sons and two daughters, developed a passion for coaching and mentoring youth. A number of his standout players went on to play in college, something he always made a priority.
After consistently fielding competitive teams and holding their own against perennial city powers Dunbar and Lake Clifton, the Smith-led Bulldogs had their breakthrough win in the 1989-90 season when they beat Dunbar, 60-57, for the MSA A crown in front of 7,000-plus fans at then-Baltimore Arena.
Longtime assistant coach Michael Wise, who would go on to succeed Mr. Smith, said he could talk for two or three days about the man he called “Smitty,” and described him as a brother more than a colleague.
“When you work with someone for 16 years, you become close to them more than a coaching relationship. I felt like Smitty became my brother,” he said. “I learned a lot from him and the kids enjoyed being around him. He wasn’t an easy guy to get along with on the court — that was part of the success. He would always say, ‘You either want it or you don’t, and if you don’t want it, don’t come in here.’ I think everybody understood he meant business about that. He was definitely a genuine person.”
Dunbar coach Bob Wade, who went up against Smith’s teams before the Bulldogs’ MSA A title team, always knew he had to have his powerhouse Poets playing at the top of their game against Southern.
“Meredith was very competitive and he demanded excellence from his players. He strategized well and he utilized the talent of his players to a great degree,” Mr. Wade said.
“But, more importantly, he demanded they did well academically and he worked very hard to get his kids in school after their high school careers. He worked hard to get them placed at the collegiate level.”
The viewing, on Dec. 8 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and the wake, on Dec. 9 at 10 a.m., will take place at the United House of Prayer, 3401 Edgewood Road, in Baltimore.
In addition to his son, who lives in Baltimore City, Mr. Smith is survived by two other sons, Darryl Smith and Atman Smith, both of Baltimore City; two daughters, Lydia Jackson and Lisa Robinson, both of Baltimore City; two brothers, James Smith and Carlton Smith, both of Baltimore County; two sisters, Mary Livingston of Baltimore County and Alexis Smith of Aberdeen; 12 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.