WVPA Sharing

Educator-coach honored with Mary L. Williams Award

PRINCETON — A well-known southern West Virginia athlete, educator, coach and community servant, Ergie Smith, was recently honored for his lifetime efforts to promote racial equality by the West Virginia Education Association.

Ergie Smith
Ergie Smith

Smith, the only high school basketball coach in the state to lead both an all-black as well as an integrated boys basketball teams to state championships received the Mary L. Williams Award at the WVEA Delegate Assembly on April 17, in Charleston.

Smith, a McDowell County native and graduate of Bluefield State College, got a teaching job at Gary District High School, an all-black school in Gary. Smith was named an All-American in football in 1951 during his time at BSC.

During the 1965 season, Smith led his Gary District team to a state championship in basketball. However, when McDowell County Schools integrated in the fall of 1965, Smith could not land a teaching and coaching job, so he accepted a position with the Council of Southern Mountains and waited until a teaching job opened up for him.

That happened in the fall of 1972, when he landed a job teaching and coaching basketball at the integrated Gary High School. In March 1973, Smith led an integrated team, the Gary High School Coal Diggers, to a Class AA State Basketball Championship. He continued teaching and coaching until he retired from Mount View High School in 1990. However, he continued to help guide young athletes as a highly respected baseball umpire as well as basketball and football official.

“I was totally surprised when I received the letter in the mail that I was going to receive this award,” Smith, a Lifetiime member of the WVEA said. “Dale Lee (president of the WVEA did quite well in presenting the award. I was truly humbled to be honored by my peers. To receive an award like this,” he said and paused. “I was very honored.”

Mary L. Williams was a black educator from West Virginia who advanced the cause for equal educational opportunities for African American public school students and became active with the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools — a teachers union that was active from 1906 until it changed its name to the American Teachers Association in 1937.

Williams served as president of the ATA from 1941-’44, and became an active national advocate for black representation on the U.S. Veterans Administration. She was recognized both in West Virginia and the nation for her efforts to promote racial equality.

Smith was honored, “for his outstanding contribution in the field of human relations,” where he has “worked to improve intergroup relations and understanding and is recognized as a leader in his community.”

Although he seldom officiates games these days, Smith still serves as a supervisor of officials for events like the recently concluded Coppinger Baseball Tournament.

— Contact Bill Archer at [email protected]

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