Often when we see our elected officials, we think they have always been in that position.
In the case of Dawson Springs Mayor Chris Smiley, he has had a complete life and took part in many activities before he became the mayor of Dawson.
As it relates to sports, Smiley was a dual sport athlete in his young days. The lessons he learned from athletics have served him well throughout his adult life and into civil leadership and elected office.
Smiley was a 1976 graduate of Dawson Springs High School and was there in some of the heydays of Panther basketball.
Smiley played under legendary Coach “Stormin’ ” Norman Manasco and Assistant Doug Phelps.
In his freshman year, the Panthers dominated the Three Rivers Conference — which was quite an achievement.
The Three Rivers Conference was basically all of the Class A schools plus a few larger schools. The conference at the time was Dawson, Earlington, South Hopkins, West Hopkins, Crittenden County, Livingston Central, Providence, Webster County and Union County.
Union County was tough in those days as they had future University of Kentucky players — including Freddie Cowan and current head coach of the Detroit Pistons, Dwane Casey. Notwithstanding, the larger schools and the talent that many of the other schools had, Smiley and his group of Panthers were the dominant powerhouse in freshman basketball.
This group arrived on the high school scene for the 1973-74 season with great expectations. Smiley and his teammates, under Manasco, had a great season of 19-11.
The 1975 season was equally a great season as the Panthers went 21-12. However, there was some bad luck for the following season.
Smiley remembers in his senior year he had bad luck as three projected starters did not return to play basketball their senior year.
“We had lost twice in the regular season in 1976 to South Hopkins, and we really prepared hard for the district tournament against them,” Smiley said. “Coach Manasco had studied the ‘four corners’ and we worked on it throughout practice getting ready for the district.
“The four corners was a game designed to slow the game down and to hold the ball for longer periods of time,” he said. “We only lost in the district to South Hopkins, 40-39. Coach Manasco worked us hard, and I owe a lot of my success in life to athletics.”
Smiley told one story that exemplified the discipline that Manasco instilled.
“We had to set an example on game day and had to wear a shirt and tie,” he said. “Another rule was on game day you were not allowed to talk to your girlfriend at all.”
In addition to his basketball skills, Smiley was a three-year player for the Panthers baseball team, playing primarily as a catcher.
He was very modest about his baseball career.
“I was not a really good baseball player and only played for the social part,” Smiley said. “However, I enjoyed the Pony League circuit.”
The Pony League circuit that Smiley mentions is the Hopkins-Webster County League for 13-15 year old boys, which included teams from Sebree, Providence, West Hopkins, Hanson, Dawson Springs and South Hopkins. Having played in it was one of the most enjoyable things to do in sports in that era.
After completion of his high school athletic career, Smiley went on to a distinguished 40-year career for Kentucky Utilities.
However, Smiley has really left his mark as a public servant. He has been a civic leader in Dawson Springs since his high school days.
Smiley served on the Dawson Springs Board of Education for 24 and a half years. He served the last 10 years as Chairman of the Board, replacing longtime Board Chair Dr. Herbert Chaney.
Smiley only left the Board of Education because a daughter of his wanted to be employed in the school system and under the nepotism rules, he could not be on the Board.
Smiley did not let that decision of the School Board end his civic service as he is now finishing his third year as Mayor of Dawson Springs.
Smiley has been a civic leader in Dawson Springs along with his wife, Jahn. Their four children are all successful and have been mainstays in the Dawson Springs athletic programs.
Yes, Smiley is a long way and many years removed from his athletic playing days. However, the lessons he learned on the basketball court and baseball diamond have served him well into his political life.
Mr. Cartwright is a local attorney and contributing sports columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.