Oct. 27, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
South Carolina women's soccer coach Shelley Smith is soon to be a two-time hall of famer. There is a good chance she will miss the induction ceremony for the second time, but it's only because she continues to succeed as a coach just as she did as a multi-sport athlete growing up in Vermont. Smith is part of the fourth induction class of the Vermont Sports Hall of Fame, but the November ceremony would conflict with the NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament, in which the nationally ranked Gamecocks hope to be competing.
"It would be nice to go, but it's not the most disappointing conflict because you want to be competing," Smith said. "What a great time to get back to Vermont, and I would love to connect with old friends and coaches. My parents are still there. I love being from Vermont, and I loved my time there. I'm proud that they would recognize me at this time."
Smith also had to miss the ceremony when she was inducted into the University of Vermont Athletic Hall of Fame in the fall of 2004 as it conflicted with her duties with the Gamecocks.
"It's an honor," Smith said of her most recent recognition. "I realize that not everybody has an opportunity to have that honor. I guess it really hasn't hit me. Even looking back to the honor from my own university, it's something that's pretty special. I'm really thankful."
Smith earned all-state honors three times at Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington, and she carried that success over to the University of Vermont from 1990-1993 where she earned First Team All-North Atlantic Conference honors three times. She played professionally before becoming the head coach at Rhode Island, where she was the New England Coach of the Year, and then took over at South Carolina in 2001 where she has since led the Gamecocks to eight NCAA Tournaments in the last nine seasons, including a record run to the Elite Eight last year.
I've always been accepting of people from all backgrounds. I think that helped the players trust what we wanted to do here at South Carolina.
While she is best known for soccer in the Palmetto State, Smith excelled in many arenas growing up in the Green Mountain State. Sports teams for young girls weren't always available during her childhood, so Smith played on the boys' teams, and played well.
"I was glad I had the chance to do that and have people accept you," Smith said. "I competed well with them and grew up playing with the boys in all seasons -- basketball, soccer, and baseball. I loved it. I continued that through junior high, and then when I got to high school they started the girls' side of things. It was neat to be a part of a small community and have my two best friends play along with the boys. We're still best friends and we have that bond to this day."
As girls' teams were added to her high school, she took one season off from softball to compete in the heptathlon for the track and field team. Smith said softball was actually her best sport and had the chance to be a two-sport star in college.
"I was asked to go to Vermont to play soccer and softball," Smith said. "I did not want to do both. I love soccer and I wanted to commit to that.
"I do want kids to play multiple sports growing up though. I think that's important to do that rather than specializing in just one sport year-round."
While she truly enjoys life in South Carolina, there is still plenty of Vermont in her.
"I just loved to be outside playing anything," Smith said. "That's what you do there. It's a very outdoorsy state and I took advantage of that. I really loved learning to ski at an early age. I've made sure my kids have been exposed to that by taking trips. Besides downhill skiing; mountain biking, hiking and cross country skiing are the activities I miss the most. I try to still hike and mountain bike when I can. At this point I don't miss the cold though."
Smith has obviously acclimated to South Carolina, and the family atmosphere that was such a big part of her life growing up in a small Vermont town has served her well.
"I've always been accepting of people from all backgrounds," Smith said. "I think that helped the players trust what we wanted to do here at South Carolina. We cared about them and wanted them to grow as people and accepted wherever they came from and whatever their likes were and made it into a team, but we respected everyone's individuality at the same time."
Former president Calvin Coolidge and Major League Baseball hall of famer Carlton Fisk are among the most famous Vermonters. If Smith's coaching career continues its trend of accompanying a brilliant playing career, she may find herself mentioned more often with those names. And if there is another hall of fame induction in her future, hopefully it will be in the off-season.
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