BY PAT BYINGTON
Asked about his nearly 25-year career as a Ramsay High School basketball coach, longtime Alabama State Senator Rodger Smitherman proudly pulls out a laminated card from his wallet.
It was a card showing that he is a certified coach with the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
“I’m a card-carrying certified volunteer coach,” Smitherman told me. “It’s my way of giving back. Sure, I’ve been a State Senator, an attorney and a law professor for 25 years, but I’ve made sure I find the time to come up here to coach and give these kids all I can give them of myself.”
Smitherman’s coaching career at Ramsay High School began in 1998 by chance.
He was sitting in the stands watching a girls’ junior varsity basketball practice when the head coach asked him to show the team how to do a press. Prior to that fateful day, Smitherman was well known in the community for years as a basketball coach for various youth teams.
Soon, it became a regular occurrence. He would come down from the stands, coach a little bit and return to seat in the bleachers. By mid-season, the head coach decided to leave his coaching job to finish his masters degree. It was then when the school principal at that time asked Smitherman to step in and finish the season. He took the job as a volunteer and proceeded to serve on the coaching staff for the Lady Rams’ basketball team and has been a key part of four Class 5A state titles between 2004-2007 along the way from his coaching corner.
Coaching high school sports is Smitherman’s passion. The student-athletes understand and embrace his passion.
Smitherman was first elected to the state senate in 1994 and was re-elected last month to another four-year term.
Once, after Smitherman won a political race, a reporter asked a student what they thought about their coach being a senator.
“They said that he may be a state senator to y’all,“ Smitherman said retelling the story. “But ‘he is just a coach to us’, and that’s the way they look at me. They think about me being their coach, their friend and mentor. And that’s all that matters.”
Smitherman’s infectious love of high school sports has helped him build lifelong friendships in the Alabama State Senate.
“We’ve served together for a number of years in the Alabama Senate,” State Senator Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia Hills said. “So many times our conversations turn to sports and the girls’ basketball team at Ramsay High School. Since I’m an old high school and college basketball player, I love to talk about that subject with Rodger. I’ve seen him so many times drive from Montgomery back to Birmingham in the middle of the week to coach the girls’ basketball team. He is so dedicated, and he doesn’t get paid for it – because he loves it.”
Waggoner, who went to Ensley High School and is the longest serving lawmaker in state history, has teamed up with Smitherman on many projects including state funding for Protective Stadium and Southern Research which is blocks away from Ramsay.
“High school sports bind us together,” added Waggoner.
Entering his 25th year coaching at Ramsay, this year as an assistant coach for the Ramsay boys’ varsity team, Smitherman described coaching high school sports this way.
“I look at it as these are seeds I am planting in young people — for trees that are going to provide shade. As for myself, I won’t get the chance to enjoy that shade, but they will!”