Sunday, March 17, 2002

Using coaching to fight cancer

College update

By Shannon Russell,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Pam Smith has a routine when it comes to Wittenberg University women's basketball, and it's not something she plans to change.

        Improve? Always. Revamp? No way. Since 1986, Smith has made the Tigers Division III contenders in the regular season, North Coast Athletic Conference and NCAA Tournament.

        She earned her 300th coaching win Feb.19, along with the game ball and a congratulatory proclamation from Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken, but she didn't stop looking for something better from herself or the athletes.

        “I just want to continue coaching and put a good, quality team on the floor,” said Smith, whose team posted a 21-6 record and won the NCAC title this season.

        Her quest for success keeps her busy. When Smith isn't on the court, she can be found recruiting potential players or working as the school's associate athletic director.

        But she spends every other Thursday in the doctor's office.

        It's not so bad, she said, of undergoing chemotherapy.

        “I don't get sick. I don't get tired. I pretty much sit there and have fluids drain into me,” Smith said. “I just go about doing my job, and sometimes I even forget I have it.”

        Smith developed breast cancer in 1990. Surgery was successful, and it was followed by 10 years of good health. She visited her doctor in 2000 because of recurring hip pain, only to learn the cancer had returned — this time in her bones.

        Her positive outlook hasn't prevented the illness from hampering her plans in basketball and beyond. After the diagnosis, Smith bought three wigs — brown, blond and auburn — to make a statement: The only thing she planned to change on the basketball court was her hair color.

        “She was the rock for all of us,” said Jeannine Ruh, women's basketball coach at Earlham College and a former Wittenberg assistant. “We were all upset, and she was the one telling us it was going to be OK.”

        As a senior at Otterbein College, Ruh played against Smith's Wittenberg team, and then became a Tigers assistant for four seasons. It wasn't hard to take notes from Smith, a Greenhills High School graduate who became a Wittenberg basketball star. A three-time MVP through her 1979-82 collegiate days, Smith (nee Evans) is the program's seventh all-time leading scorer (855 points) and sixth-leading rebounder (610). Her basketball passion has evolved into six NCAA Tournament appearances, nine seasons of 20 or more victories and a 1999 Wittenberg University Athletic Hall of Honor induction.

        “I think based on our players early on, we've established a strong work ethic, discipline and the desire to be better. Our younger players see that, and it breeds itself there,” Smith said.

        Smith scours the country for prospects who excel in academics and athletics, with a personal interest in Cincinnati. The athletes who arrived on Wittenberg's Springfield, Ohio, campus have not disappointed her, and she doesn't want to let them down, either.

        Smith is candid about her illness. Her teams know, and they support her. But Ruh said few people know the pain Smith endures because she prefers to focus on anything else.

        “It's so hard to see her go through this because she's so special to me. I wish other people could see how strong she is,” Ruh said. “After she was diagnosed, we never saw her demeanor change at all on the floor. She missed a couple of practices, but never a game.”

        Smith has no plans to abandon her coaching post. It's recruiting season, after all, and she needs to meet future players. And there are other items on her to-do list, like advancing past the first round pf the NCAA Tournament. A 400th win? Sure.

        “I don't like to look on the negative side of things. I'm a positive person,” Smith said. “I'm not the kind that dwells on (cancer). I'd rather be doing work and staying busy.”


        ALSO: Matt Rooks (Moeller) of Bethel College in McKenzie, Tenn., finished his basketball career as the third all-time leading scorer with 2,184 points. In his senior season, he averaged 15.9 points a game and was All-Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, All-NAIA Division II East Region and honorable mention All-America. He led all scorers with 24 points in Bethel's NAIA Tournament appearance against Western Baptist.

        Tusculum College junior Pat Compton (Fairfield) led the Pioneers men's basketball team in scoring (10.9 ppg) and rebounding (5.2 pg) in the program's first winning season in two years. Compton earned All-South Atlantic Conference second-team honors.

        Northern Kentucky University senior catcher Jason Martin (Oak Hills) was named the Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the Week in baseball. Martin had three hits, two home runs, two walks and six RBI in the Norse's 19-15, 10-inning loss to Miami University March 5. He hit a home run and had four RBI in the Norse's 18-3 win over Kentucky State March 6.

        Angie Zeuch (Mercy) helped the Case Western Reserve University basketball team to a school-record number of wins in their 20-7 season. Zeuch was second on the team in scoring (12.2 ppg) with a .413 field goal average.


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