Will Smith was a successful player during his high school days at Cook.
But nothing, not even a 90-plus mile per hour fastball that plunked Smith in the side during his playing career, could prepare him for a recent telephone call he received from Greg Frady who chairs the Ethics in Coaching Committee for the Georgia Dugout Club.
“Quite honestly, I was very emotional,” said the Worth County High School baseball coach. “Shocked at first, and then within minutes of speaking to Coach Frady, emotional. This is a big deal and it hit me like a fastball. (I thought) surely they have the wrong guy.”
Smith will be presented the Ethics in Coaching Award at the Georgia Dugout Club Coaches Clinic on January 10, 2020 at the Marietta Hilton Conference Center. He will be honored along with the six newest members of the Georgia Dugout Club Hall of Fame.
Frady, the former Georgia State head baseball coach who stepped away from the diamond earlier this year, said Smith is the perfect candidate.
“I’ve known Will for a long time, since his career started (as a player) at Valdosta State,” Frady said. “He’s grown a lot as a coach but what hasn’t changed is his character. He’s a man of integrity and he’s in it for the kids.”
Smith started his career at Pelham High in Southwest Georgia in 1996 before taking over at Worth County in the fall of 2000. He has helped to transform the school’s baseball program into a consistent winner. He helped the Rams win 20 games in a season on multiple occasions as well as host a state baseball playoff series for the first time in 2005. A year later, the Rams won their first region title.
The longtime coach also helped start the girls fast pitch softball program and remained in that capacity for several seasons.
But under his guidance, Worth County annually challenges for region baseball titles and playoff berths.
“Worth County is a football community,” Smith said. “We had a great deal of success in football in the late 1980’s and 90’s, so when I came to Sylvester in the fall of 2000, football was what we were known for. My second season at Worth County, we only won four ball games. However, it was one of the more enjoyable seasons that I can remember.
“As with most situations, when a new person takes over, there’s a learning curve. Players had to get to know me, parents had to get to know me and I had to get to know both of them. That second season is when the players and parents really started to embrace what I was hoping to bring to Worth County. Relationships were beginning to form and the lines of communications between what was expected and how we were going to play the game became embedded. I had two guys that were extremely instrumental in the way this program starting to take shape. Ken Holland and Scotty Ward were my assistants for several years and really laid the groundwork in the foundation for what we are still trying and continuing to do today.”
Smith has won more than 300 baseball games, but he values building relationships and friendships more.
In 2016, one of Smith’s former players, Denzell Gowdy, was drafted by the San Diego Padres. Gowdy had went to Darton College in Albany, but Smith had told numerous scouts be believed Gowdy could play professionally.
“Coach Smith has meant everything to me,” Gowdy said. “I came in as a freshman underdeveloped and he pushed and pushed me. He got me to buy in. But I was thinking, ‘Why is he pushing me so hard. I’m doing everything I can.’ Coach Smith saw the potential before I saw it. He was tough on me for a reason. Then everything took off.”
And Smith is well-respected among his peers.
“Will is the perfect candidate for that award,” said former Colquitt County coach Tony Kirkland, a recipient of the Ethics in Coaching Award in 2014.
“You won’t find a more upbeat, positive guy who loves what he does. I’ve never seen him without a chuckle or a smile. He’s definitely a class act.”
Smith said he is honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as Kirkland, Denmark coach David Smart, Providence Christian’s Adam Cantrell, Valdosta’s Brad Porter, Brookstone’s Vince Massey and Troup’s Craig Garner, who all have recently received the same award.
He said he just hopes that he’s done something right.
“I’m still at a loss of words for winning this award,” Smith said. “You know you’re down in Southwest Georgia and you’re doing the very best you can to build a program to compete and play the game the right way and enjoy every day of what you’re doing. The limelight doesn’t shine on us down here, but we’ve got some good players and even better kids.
“The relationships that I have built through the years of baseball with my fellow coaches is probably what I get the most joy out of when it comes to competing. I love to compete against my buddies. But I can’t wait until the end of the game to shake their hand and tell them a job well done. And I know that in a few weeks or maybe next year, we get to do it all again.”