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By Andrew Christiansen

Smith takes break from coaching to certify for school administration


Andrew Christiansen

TAKING A DIFFERENT DIRECTION: Lori Smith is stepping down from coaching at Lyle-Wishram to pursue her certification in school administration. Smith has coached most of her 27 years at Lyle and Lyle-Wishram. She started at Lyle as a second grade teacher and has taught middle school ever since.

Every coach would like to go out on top. While Lyle-Wishram didn't quite get there during Lori Smith's 21 years as a coach, they did get to State in volleyball and basketball during this past school year, a rare feat for the Lady Cougars. In fact, while Lyle has made it to State in basketball several times, the volleyball team has only made it one other time, back in 2001.

"This group is better, as a group [than her 2001 team]," said Smith. "We have a deeper bench. No stand out players, but different, "Wow" players on different nights."

Smith should know. She began coaching volleyball right out of college in 1990. She has coached volleyball at Lyle ever since, except for a six-year break. She came back to coach that 2001 team which featured All Around athlete and later Purdue and NCAA javelin champion, Lindsey Blaine.

This time the lay-off may be permanent, but Smith won't rule out coaching again. For now she has to step down as she pursues a Master's Degree and administrative certification. She will continue to teach at Lyle while taking classes through Heritage College on-line with one Saturday per month on campus at Toppenish.

Smith grew up as Lori Lorenz in Glenwood. She played volleyball for Dan and Deb Allaway, who are frequent referees for the sports these days. During her six year break from coaching, Smith refereed volleyball matches in the area.

Lori competed in track and basketball, in addition to volleyball at Glenwood. She played basketball for Joe Bales, who was her assistant coach in volleyball the past two years. Volleyball was always her favorite sport, she says.

Smith says she always wanted to be a teacher. She had a plan and executed it. She went to Central Washington University, where she played some intramural ball, and graduated with her teaching certificate in four years. She was hired at Lyle School to teach second grade, that first year out of college.

Smith says she coached because she loves working with kids. She says coaching allowed her to see the growth of the kids she had taught years earlier in middle school. And while she will miss it by not coaching, she will still see them growing up since Lyle begins its consolidation of schools this fall. She and the middle school kids will all be on the campus in Lyle.

In addition to coaching volleyball, she and her husband, Don coached middle school track. She started when her son, Nolan was in the seventh grade. She says she and Don were at all the events anyway, so they felt them may as well coach. She also served as assistant basketball coach for seven years and suggests it is no coincidence that she ends her coaching career as the assistant to Bales, who coached her during her first two years of high school.

Smith sees great value in sports programs, particularly for a small school. "The kids can do what they want and be part of a team," says Smith. It teaches responsibility and time management."

She also describes the experience for the kids as being "part of a family." "We (she and Bales) worked hard to be part of a family and do things that the kids would remember. Some of the extra activities included first night practice sleep over in the gym." She learned that from Jeff Agar at Glenwood. On the eve of the first allowed practice, they would sleep over in a locked down gym. Then they would practice between midnight and 2 a.m., hit the sack and get up and practice at 8 a.m. That started in 2001 and continued until last year. Age tends to take the fun out of sleeping on a gym floor. They also have had dinners together and other activities to draw the team close together.

Smith says there have been conflicts with families at times, but that she treated everyone the same. "I decided to be very honest with kids and parents. I told them varsity is for the best six girls. Seniors who weren't among those six could be with the varsity if they chose, but their playing time would be limited and mostly with the junior varsity. She says communication was key. If she knew why kids had to miss or be late, it wasn't an issue. If the reason to miss was frivolous, she told them what the consequences would be and let them make the decision. "Most chose to show up," she says.

In many ways this is the most natural time for Smith to hang up the coaching job, even for just awhile. Lyle-Wishram will move back up to class 2B. And, her daughter, Ellie, has graduated and will move on to college this fall. In her final year, the volleyball team staged a great come-back at District to earn the right to advance to Regionals. They bowed out with a 1-2 record, similar to 2001. In basketball, a similar come-back got them to Regionals where the season came to an end against perennial State Champion Colton.

"Ending this year, going to state in volleyball and basketball, I couldn't have asked for a better way to go out," says Smith.

It may not be the end of the Smith era. It seems there are new chapters to be written.


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