EATON — Eaton native Earl Smith was inducted into the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) Hall of Fame on Sunday, Dec. 3. Smith has been involved with sports — playing, organizing, umpiring, and observing — in Preble County for almost 50 years.
Smith was inducted into the Executive/Director category of the USSSA Hall of Fame.
Prior to his retirement a few years ago, Smith had accumulated almost 50 years of softball experience on his resume. He played the game, umpired the game, managed the game, and was even the director of all adult and youth softball league play in Eaton for more than 30 years.
Smith was born on a farm in Jackson Township and raised in Eaton. He married his wife of 50 years, Judy, who was a Monroe Township graduate. Together they have three daughters and six grandchildren — most of whom are sport-minded individuals.
He played softball for various teams for 15 years. As his children began to get involved with sports, he found himself dragged into basketball, track, and other sports. Once he was finished playing softball, the late Bob Thompson — who was running the program at the time — offered Smith an opportunity to get involved once again.
“He came up to me and said that he needed somebody to help umpire girls’ games, because one of the guys was not going to do it. I asked if he was sure and that was how I got started. He was really the one who got me started in this,” Smith said.
“I worked with him for about three years and we formed an umpire group called Eaton Area Umpires in 1982. We had a total of 16 guys at one time that umpired locally for us for 25 years.”
After Thompson retired from running the City of Eaton softball program, Smith took over for his mentor. He ran the program for 25 years before the YMCA took it over from him.
“When I got the call for the USSSA nomination I thought, why me? I didn’t know what I did to reserve it, but when the YMCA was in their second year of operating the leagues I had a former ball player approach me and ask me to take over the program once again. He said that it wasn’t running like it used to,” Smith said.
“This is a guy that always complaining about everything every night we played. I finally said, ‘You did not know how well we had a program running around here, did you?’ He said, ‘No, I didn’t.’ That made me feel really good that I did well for the community for 25 years. A lot of people respected what we did.
“I’ve even had people over the last couple years talk about what a blast we had back in the day. That is what we made it for too, to have fun.”
During the event, Master of Ceremonies Scott Kuhnen, introduced Smith for his induction into the Hall of Fame.
“The extensive involvement of Smith’s own family in softball — and other sports — was likely the moving force behind Eaton’s reputation as a substantial hot-bed of USSSA co-ed softball, sending more teams per capita than any area outside the Cincinnati area to Southern Ohio USSSA mixed couples championship play,” Kuhnen said.
“He used his USSSA league director position to also send teams off to USSSA National and World Tournaments for 15 years. Smith’s extensive umpire resume led to working not just slow pitch, but also both high school and USSSA fast pitch softball all around Southwestern Ohio. He was recognized as the Ohio USSSA Director of the Year in 1998, and was named a Greater Dayton Legend of the Game in 2009.”
Smith has now been umpiring high school softball around the area for the last 36 years. When he helped form the umpire group they were doing ASA Softball (now called USA Softball). Some of the members recommended looking into USSSA Softball. They got their licenses for both types of softball and formed their league around those.
According to Smith, after a while they switched to doing exclusively USSSA Softball.
“It’s really not any different from high school and USA Softball,” Smith explained. “Softball is softball. They are different names and different organizations and groups – that is basically what it is. You can be involved with all of them — like I do high school and I did do USA Softball for awhile, but I fell in love with USSSA. That is the way it ended up.”
He added that he is honored to be recognized for the work he has done for the community, but everything that he has done, he’s done because he loves the sport.
“Being an umpire is a lot of fun. You have to enjoy doing the sport and being around the kids and the coaches and the fellow umpires. The camaraderie is what has kept me going on a lot of things,” Smith explained. “You have to have the desire to do it and a strong mind. You have to have broad shoulders, because you have fans hollering this and that.
“I enjoy umpiring. My family has been involved with a lot of sports, but you could say that softball is my gig. I’ve had a nice run. It is fun to watch the kids get involved and I have run into parents who I umpired for. It is those things that really keep you wanting to be involved.
“I know my days are numbered, but I want to keep involved somehow for a little while — not as active as in the past, but active.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH