Player, coach, educator, and st. mary's stabilizing force
Smith has been the athletic director at St. Mary’s for over 30 years, and been around the game even longer. The 1981 Breckenridge graduate scored over 1,000 career points at a time where women played with a men’s ball, games were only 32 minutes long, seasons were 18 games, and there was no three-point line.
She went on to dominate at NDSCS, graduating in 1983 after an illustrious career participating in basketball, track and field, tennis and volleyball. Smith was a 2x all-conference selection in basketball and volleyball and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2011. She had been asked several times previously, but felt she should be out of the game for a longer period of time before consideration. Her track and field team also won a region championship during her time at the Wahpeton based college.
Smith was one of North Dakota State University’s first JUCO transfer targets. She spent one redshirt season with the Bison basketball team, before settling down in Breckenridge and starting a family of her own. Sue has five children — Lindsay, Savannah, Ethan, Blaze, and Daymon. All of them have participated in the sport of basketball at some level and have continued to help officiate and work youth events. Sue recently coached a seventh grade game in which her grandson, Jackson, drilled a three-pointer to pull ahead late in a 40-36 double-overtime win. Her coaching counterpart on that junior high team? Noah Christensen, another St. Mary’s product.
“One of my girls kept dribbling the ball to the right corner. We came out of a timeout, probably the third one I’d called, and she got the ball stolen from her,” Smith recalled. “The defender dribbled up the left sideline and I whacked it out of her hand and shot it at our own hoop. I was more mad because I only hit the rim with the shot than I was about the technical.”
Over the years Sue has noticed an increase in players criticizing officials, something she dissuades her teams from doing.
“I try to teach them not to talk to officials, as hard is that is nowadays,” Smith said. “If I think it’s something that should be questioned that’s my job as the coach to take care of that, and try to keep the kids from talking to officials.”
She believes the rise in player interaction with officials coincides with the 3-on-3 “Call your own foul” era of basketball, where things that weren’t always fouls in that backyard setting, certainly are in school sanctioned hoops. The same could be said for the contrast in calls between AAU and high school league activities.
“In the early years of 3-on-3 you reffed your own games. Coaches could come along but it had to be all player run, no officials,” Smith said. “I remember the Gus Macker tournaments in Fargo, you’d play in the parking lot of West Acres Mall and you’d come out of there with shredded knees. You couldn’t say ‘No blood no foul,’ because there was a lot of blood.”
When Smith coaches or officiates she has a simple fix for the contrast in styles — play with your feet. The disciplined coach instructs players to keep their hands back and work their butts off for defensive stops. Hard work has certainly gotten Smith to this point in her career, and she hopes to steer youth in the same direction.
I’ll leave you with this, a St. Mary’s monthly newsletter from March 2008, where principal Linda Johnson describes Smith’s service with the school.
“Our young athletes worked hard and were committed to their team through dedicated practice and teamwork on the court during games. This doesn’t just happen. It takes a coach who is passionate not only about teaching the fundamentals of each sport, but also the life lessons about how to work as a team, how to accept praise and criticism, how to win or lose with dignity, and how to be respectful to others. Sue Smith, as our athletic director and head coach, has been this driving force. She has a passion for sports and she loves her faith. She brings the mission of our school to the playing floor and our students are better people for having had her as their coach. Thank you, Sue.”