Sports

Reminiscing with Pearl Smith

Pearl Smith coached FHS football from 1966 to 1988. Here is the team photo from the ‘66 team that went 7-2.
Pearl Smith coached FHS football from 1966 to 1988. Here is the team photo from the ‘66 team that went 7-2.
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Pearl Dean Smith was born Oct. 22, 1934 in Jefferson County, Iowa.

Named after his grandfather Pearl Ruckman Smith, the future Trojan legend was called P.D. as a child who went to a country school until he moved to town in eighth grade and attended Washington.

After graduating from FHS and spending a year at Parsons College, Smith was drafted into the Army near the end of the Korean War.

Pearl got into special services and spent most of his time as an honor guard at military funerals at national cemeteries.

:The Army was the best paying job I ever had,” shared Smith. “It paid for three years of my college, I got a masters degree out of it and my first loan to buy a house. And right now, I get medicines through the VA, so not only were those two years good for me growing up, but it’s been very rewarding to me afterwards.”

Smith never left the country, going from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Lee in Virginia where he spent time at the University of Richmond. He then went to Fort Devons Massachusetts and then Long Island or “whereever there were lots of national cemeteries,” according to Pearl.

He joined a football team in the service and when he returned to Massachusetts, he was asked if he wanted to manage the field house at Fort Devons.

Once his service was complete, Smith said he knew could get VA loans to go back to Parsons and he finished his degree in 1958 while doing football and track, as well.

Smith had originally focused his studies in science, but shifted to health and physical education.

“My wife had a two-year teaching degree, so we went to find a job together and ended up in Renwick at Boone Valley,” explained Pearl.

“I coached football, baseball, girls basketball track and Shirley taught at the elementary.”

Smith described Renwick as similar to Richland in relation to Pekin schools.

Coming home

Lou Bohnsack was the head football coach at Fairfield and enticed Smith to return to FHS and replace him after two seasons. Pearl’s coach at Parsons College, O.B. Nelson, was excited for this possibility as one of his sons was a better player for the Trojans on the gridiron.

“This was a college town and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to end up coaching,” admitted Smith. “Once I became athletic director and had two of my own kids coming through, and they weren’t willing to move, and my wife and I were both happy, we just decided this is where we were going to live and work until we retire.”

Golden years

Smith attributes much of his success to coaching in the “prime time of Fairfield High” as Pearl puts it.

“We had our largest enrollment at that time which was over 700 kids for three grades,” said Smith.

“There was Parsons and lots of industry in town having success, plus in the rural areas you’d have four families each working a section of farm land and now one person owns all of that. “There were lots of things that led to the declining enrollment we see, but I just thought it was a great place to coach and I had good people to work with. We had a system and everyone was on the same page trying to put the kids in the right position to have success. They said I could have two coaches and one was going to be left over from the previous staff, so I hired Rich Reever from Northwest Teachers College where I was getting my masters. I was fortunate to have Tom White, Bill Moore, Mike Schenck, Bill Cummings, Tom Fontana and Marv Septer as well.

Highlights

“I enjoyed the community and the booster club and one of my proudest moments was helping to organize the Trojan Booster Club, which has done so much for the high school’s sports.”

When Smith was a player, Burlington and Ottumwa were the big opponents, but when he returned to coach they told him it was now Mt. Pleasant.

“We always played with Muscatine and outside schools like Des Moines Roosevelt since we had a larger enrollment,” said Smith.

“The other day, and I live down in here in the Ozarks, I was in the local grocery store called The Woods and I ran into a former player of mine named Dwight Bond and we were talking about being ranked No. 1 in the state and averaging 48 points a game and dominating everyone and when we went on the road we had a snow store and ended up playing on a Monday and losing 14-12 after going for two at the end. He and I were talking about that particular play and I said I’ve thought about plays like that, but that is sports and the best team doesn’t always win. The year my son Steve was the senior quarterback, we played at Cedar Rapids Jefferson who was No. 1 in 4A and we beat them at Kingston Stadium on a Friday and had to turn around and play again on Wednesday and our kids didn’t have enough time to recover, including Steve who had hurt his hand. We had to play Urbandale and we lost and that was very disappointing because we had some teams that were good enough to be state champs.”

“Beating Regis at Kingston in front of 10,000 people.”

“Going to Sterling, Illinois and playing on a Saturday afternoon. It was 100 degrees and they were second in the biggest class the year before and our kids played the best first half of football I had ever seen and we scored like 30 points and we couldn’t even find shade at halftime it was so hot.”

Beating the team from East St. Louis. We went down and scouted them on a Saturday and they beat a big St. Louis school 52-0 and we didn’t know what to do,” said Smith. “Our booster club gave them $800 to come up and play us and we fed them before and after and many of their players had never seen cows. The Hawkeyes played that day and a lot of people had tickets but stayed and watched us instead. That was one of the best efforts I’ve ever seen, where a team was able to defeat someone bigger and faster with better team play.”

“We had outstanding athletes like the McQuarters, the Jacksons, Nelsons and they all had multiple kids that were not only good athletes, but they wanted to continue the family name and do it,” said Smith.

“Now I hear about families with two boys and one plays football and the other one plays baseball. We had more of a family thing going on back then where everybody was involved, but there are a lot more sports offered today then we had. We were just getting started on soccer.”

“I always believed in girls athletics after I coached it up at Renwick,” said Smith. “I always thought it was a shame when I returned to Fairfield and they didn’t have any athletic opportunities for the girls. Having kids involved in activities, I don’t care what it is, music, basketball or track or whatever it is, is usually what keeps them interested in school. They want to get up and go to school because they have something to shoot for. Being part of a team and having good school spirit and wanting to root for the other teams too.

Field naming

Pearl said that although he is a member of the Iowa coaches, athetic directors and Parson College quarterback halls of fame, “None of them compare to having my name on that field.”

“Anytime you receive an honor, it’s because you had a lot of good people around you. I had great coaches and a wife that loved sports and was willing to put up with her husband putting in the extra time. Everything was good for me.”

Namesakes

Pearl and Shirley had two sons, Steve and Doug, and both were in coaching.

Doug just stopped but did high school and college coaching and won a state championship about six years ago near Springfield, Missouri while Steve is still coaching near Columbia, Missouri.

What does being a Trojan mean to you?

“I spent most of my life on that field, in that school and within that community and it should mean a lot to you. Community pride is built and that’s why when a lot of communities lost their schools to consolidation, they felt like they lost their community spirit. It’s the school and it’s successes that motivate a community and people want to live where there are good schools and good extracurricular programs, not just athletic programs.”

Forever home

“Going back to Fairfield is like going back home to me. It’ll always be that way for me and my wife ‘cause that’s where we raised our family. The people in Fairfield, there’s none better.”