MICHELLE T. BERNARD
Richard Smith made his own history during his tenure at Lincolnton High School. The former head coach of the school’s football team is now on a journey tracing the history of those football coaches and players who were there before his time. It all started with questions that Smith had about past football game scores, records and coaches.
“I knew some of the history of the coaches but I didn’t know when football started or really a whole lot about the history of the sport in Lincolnton,” he said. “So I started researching and became interested in what I found. It went from there.”
Smith grew up in the Lincolnton area, went to high school at Lincolnton High and played virtually all sports while he was there. He went to North Carolina State University on a football scholarship, even though, he admits, he was better at baseball because he was so skinny. After a year at North Carolina State the baseball coach at the college got him a summer job in the Shenandoah Valley playing semi-pro baseball. In 1964, Smith signed his first professional contract with the Washington Senators. Smith played pro baseball for various teams until he was offered a teaching and coaching job with Lincolnton High School in 1970. He taught and coached for 30 years, ending his career as the head football coach and athletic director.
Smith’s collection of Lincolnton High School football history covers the period from 1921, the first year football was played at Lincolnton High School, to 1958, which was the end of a coaching change. There have only been nine football coaches in that timeframe. The next coach was the one that Smith played under while he was while at Lincolnton High from 1958 through 1961.
“I really didn’t expect it to get so big,” Smith said. “Before this came along there was family genealogy, until I ran into a dead end with one of my ancestors, John Smith, in the 1800’s, the local history of Long Shoals and local church history.”
The project has grown as Smith has worked on it. Originally, he intended to just include a little bit of history on the coaches gleaned from information that he found interesting in newspaper articles. Then it was suggested to him that he include a picture, which proved difficult for the first coach. He also includes a team picture, the roster and newspaper clippings about the coach and team for each year that the coach was at Lincolnton High. Each year has approximately three pages of information.
After he started collecting the history, Smith went back and added information about the football field during the time period. He found it interesting that, at one time, football was played where the Fatz restaurant is now located on Main Street, which used to be a fairground. Also included are scores and coach’s records and a miscellaneous section for things that Smith found interesting along the way, like when the band was first organized. Finally, he added interviews and information on players from the very early years that he’s been able to contact.
Information is coming from Lincolnton High School and college yearbooks and articles from the Lincoln Times-News and Lincoln County News preserved on microfilm. Smith said he’s spent many hours reading microfilm at the library. He’s also tracked down coaches who left Lincolnton to go to other states.
“It’s just curiosity,” he said. “It’s like solving a puzzle and I like to solve puzzles but I keep telling Barbara that I’ve got to get done with this so I can go on to something else.”
Ultimately, when Smith finishes his book, he plans to give copies of it to the people he’s talked to while working on the project, to those he thinks will like it and then give it to the Lincolnton High School athletic department.