Friday, February 08, 2002

Athletic career far from over for 71-year-old star

Everyone has a story worth telling. At least, that's the theory. To test it, Tempo is throwing darts at the phone book. When a dart hits a name, a reporter dials the phone number and asks if someone in the home will be interviewed. Stories appear on Fridays.

By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Loyd G. Smith still remembers burning up with rheumatic fever.

        He was 8 years old in 1938 when the disease caused his joints to ache so bad he wanted to cry. He remembers the constant thirst, the uneasy sleep, and the half year of school he missed.

        But the doctor's words were perhaps the worst: The disease likely would damage the valves in Loyd's heart, and he probably would never be able to play sports.

        Loyd is 71 now. The white-haired, bespectacled man opens the door to his Bright, Ind., home and offers the kind of firm handshake you'd expect from a sturdy, 6-foot-2 athlete who looks like he still could hit a softball to the outfield wall.

        Which he can.

        He sits at a table in the living room and says he's concerned that all this will sound like he's bragging. Certainly he is proud of his championships and medals and honors. But he also knows there are more important things.

[photo] Loyd G. Smith has played on six championship softball teams.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        Growing up in the hoop-crazy Hoosier state, this fierce competitor gravitated first to basketball. He began playing in eighth grade, after convincing his mother he had suffered no long-term effects from the rheumatic fever.

        In 1946, he helped lead tiny Bright High — the entire school had only 23 boys — to a sectional victory over a big-school rival, Aurora. Old-timers still talk about that one.

        Loyd then enrolled at Franklin College, where for four years he played basketball and competed in track and field. One year he posted the sixth-best javelin throw among all college athletes nationwide.

        He continued playing basketball after his college graduation in 1951. That also was the year he married. He and his wife, Adele, have seven children.

        Shortly thereafter, he took up another sport: slow-pitch softball. He excelled because of his body strength.

        Loyd also believed it was important to be strong in his faith. He joined Bright Christian Church in 1954, and has seen it grow from a few dozen members to more than 1,000. He played on the church basketball and softball teams, helping them achieve long winning streaks.

        He abided by this philosophy: “Whatever you have the talent to do, do it and do your best.” He believes that applies to sports, and more.

        “In the Christian life, if you live and do your best, that's all the Lord's going to require of you,” Loyd says.

        In sports, his best has been phenomenal.

        At age 60, competing against others his age, he earned 11 gold medals in throwing events at a Masters track and field meet in Illinois.

        Two years later he set a world record for 62-year-olds in the 35-pound weight throw, with a toss of 33 feet, 1 1/2 inches.

        Meanwhile, he was organizing a team of over-50 men to play in national softball tournaments.

        They won their first tournament in 1989; five more national championships followed, the most recent in 1996. Two years later, Loyd was inducted into the National Senior Softball Hall of Fame.

        Loyd retired six years ago from Miami Valley Ready Mix Concrete, where he was general manager. He no longer plays basketball, and surgery three years ago ended his track and field career. But he can still swing a bat, and he's looking forward to spring, and a new softball season.

        How many more? He can't know, of course.

        But he recalls a tournament a few years ago during which an older player reached high to catch a line drive, snagged the ball in his glove, then slumped to the ground, dead.

        Loyd spoke to his widow. She said of her husband: “He always said he'd rather (die) on the ball field than watching TV. I know if I could talk to him right now, he'd say, "Did I hold the ball? Was the runner out?' ”

        Loyd Smith smiled at that. He understood perfectly.


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