We love fairy tale endings in sports. You can go from rags to riches. Nice guys can finish first. But sometimes the plot takes a more complicated twist.
Gateway High School head football coach and athletic director Coach Terry Smith, who was honored in September 2010 by the New Pittsburgh Courier as one of the 50 Men of Excellence recently had his salary cut in half.
Smith was shocked when the school board voted 7-2 in June to reduce the athletic director position to part-time, and reduce the annual salary from about $95,000 to about $47,000.
“I went to the school board meeting in June to fight for my Junior High School students and found out about my job by watching an overhead projector,“ said Smith. “I felt like my legs were cut from under me. Like I just got sucker punched. They hoodwinked me. That was a lack of professionalism.”
Smith is the greatest athlete in Gateway High School history. In 1986 he led Gateway to a state championship. He was a record setting receiver at Penn State and played professionally.
Smith has been one of the top coaches in the WPIAL. He was under the microscope from the start, the scrutiny even more intense than normal because he was a first-time head coach and because he is Black.
His teams owns six conference championships in 10 seasons and played for the WPIAL championship 4 times. Gateway ranked in the USA TODAY Super 25 during the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
As a player he could run like a deer, but learned recently that he can’t out run injustice according to the NAACP.
While football at Gateway remains relevant in the WPIAL sports landscape, questions about the school board’s integrity have persisted, specifically the lengths to which members will go to get rid of this Black coach.
“Obviously when they take half a person’s pay, you have to read just how you go about your everyday living, “Smith said. “Now I have to pay for health insurance.”
Smith has a daughter with special needs.
“It will make things more difficult for my daughter and her care,” he said. “It’s going to make things tougher.”
Students and parents hit the streets with petitions and protests since June, in an effort to maintain the full-time status of athletic director Smith.
In 2003, Smith became the first Black athletic director in the WPIAL Class AAAA. Many people call him the Jackie Robinson of high school football.
Smith has a reputation of developing great football players. He will push his players beyond what they believe their bodies can do. Results included over 80 full-football scholarships in 10 years.
Since taking over as head coach in 2002, Smith compiled a whooping 92-28 record and led the Gators to the playoff for 10 consecutive years.
Many people believe that he is being targeted because of race.
“If it quacks like a Duck,” said attorney Milton Raiford. “You don’t have to eat a whole Pig to know that its pork. And it’s obvious that the school board has an issue with African-American male leadership.”
Nearly 1,000 people packed the Gateway high school auditorium on July 11 for the school board meeting. Attendees ranged from infants to the elderly—students, working people and retirees.
“Look at all the people here. I could have sold beer and made a lot of money,“ said former Penn State Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley. “They are messing with the wrong guy here.”
About 80 people spoke on his behalf, including football players past, present and future. Only one person spoke in favor of the school board and she was booed out of the auditorium.
One of the most dramatic moments of the meeting came when, former Pittsburgh Steelers, Chuck Sanders offered to write a check for $57,000 to replace coach Smith’s lost salary. The board rejected the offer and sparked heated discussions among school board officials.
“I’m very appreciative of the support, the amount of work a lot of community members have put forth on my behalf,” said Smith. “I had no idea that these many people would show up. There has never been a school board meeting like this before. It was unbelievable.”
Visitors’ comments were limited to three minutes and many people had harsh words for the school board members and the “Pitcairn Group.”
Multiple sources say Mitch Adams, Gateway’s head basketball coach, is actually one of Smith’s biggest enemies, and likely lent his support to the board’s actions.
Adams has recently led Gateway to back-to-back WPIAL titles, but his no nonsense, in your face approach has rubbed parents and players the wrong way and led to Smith giving him a poor review.
Adams is from Pitcairn and so is school board members Dave Magill and Steve O’Donnell.
Several people mentioned that the area hospitals do not pay any taxes.
The school board and Monroeville officials expect new municipal manager Jeffrey Silka to bring more revenue to the community.
As municipal manager of the city of Johnstown, Silka helped maintain arrangements with three local hospitals. Hospital’s in Johnstown made an estimated annual payment of $300,000.
The new Monroeville UPMC East is now open at the intersection of Route 22 and Route 48 and a mile up the road is Forbes Regional Hospital.
Many officials are optimistic that between the two Hospital payments to the community will be similar to the payments made in Johnstown.
With a new municipal manager who has a history of pumping money back into the community. Many people in the community are wondering what was the hurry to cut in half Smith’s salary?
“We have 5.7 million dollars just sitting in a general fund,” said Smith. “God has a plan for us and we have to trust in him. I declare victory in this fight.”
Terry Smith has never been one to panic. He has an easy smile and has been accommodating with the news media throughout.
“This would never happen at Woodland Hills,” said William Timbers. “What other big-time school district do you know of in this area—big-time meaning the North Alleghenys, the Upper St. Clair—would have a part-time athletic director?”
Despite protest and allegations of racism, the Gateway school board voted to cut athletic director Terry Smith’s hours in the office, his pay and benefits in half for next school year.
“This will go to the governor, this will go to the state NAACP, and this will go national,” said P. Lorraine Lewis-Burke, the president of the Allegheny East Branch of the NAACP.
The race is not given to the swift or the strong, but to the one that endures to the end, she said. “Weeds are nothing more than frustrated flowers. The NAACP is about to pull the filthy weeds out of the school board and turn Monroeville back to the Garden City.”
Coach Smith is still seen as a “Super Hero” in Monroeville, because of everything that he accomplished on the football field and the basketball court.
But all “Super Heroes” has their nemesis. His nemesis appears to be the school board, the Pitcairn group and Mitch Adams.