Loyd Star coach says 1980 team was special

Published 6:49 pm Monday, June 21, 2010

Rickey Smith has been playing, coaching and watching baseballfor most of his life. His 1980 state championship Loyd Star squadwas a history-making team, becoming the first Lincoln County-basedteam to capture a baseball state title.

According to Smith, Loyd Star’s championship baseball team was aunique squad. “I’ve had a bunch of teams but this was a group thatwas the closest thing to a family I ever had. They believed in oneanother. If someone was having a bad day, somebody would alwayspick them up.”

Smith recalled some of his player. “Butch Keene was prettyconsistent. Shortstop Anthony Melancon was a pretty good hitter andRobbie Sartin came up with some big hits. Joney Britt was our firstbaseman and he would get on base a lot. He would get a base hit orwalk.”

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Ronnie Keene, an eighth grader, played second base.

Smith, 62, graduated from Loyd Star in 1966 and played baseball andbasketball for the Copiah-Lincoln Community College Wolves. Then hetransferred to Whitworth College where he played basketball forRobert (Bob) Calhoun and Jack Case.

The Whitworth Patriots played their baseball games at the oldExchange Club Park field.

Smith started teaching and coaching in 1970 at Loyd Star. He helpedcoach the football and basketball teams for four or five years. Hecoached the girls to a South Mississippi basketball title in1972.

“We practiced at Loyd Star and played our games at West Lincoln’sfield,” affectionately known as the Cow Palace.

He also remembered Hamilton’s primitive facilities. “I think it wasa converted Little League field.”

Thirty years later, high school baseball fields are wellmaintained, often covered with a large tarp to avoid rainouts. Thegrass is mowed to a certain height and the infields are smooth.Dugouts are large, well ventilated and covered.

“Baseball fields have come a long way,” said Smith who now watcheshis grandson, Tyler B. Case, play for the Hornets. “On our field,you couldn’t even see the centerfielder.”

A huge mound of dirt occupied center field before earth-movingequipment was brought in to level the playing surface.

Loyd Star had several strong teams during his tenure and theHornets won South state in 1985. They lost to St. Andrew’s in ahard-fought series.

Smith retired from teaching and coaching in 2000 after 30 years.Loyd Star’s field was named Smith Field last year, in honor of thecoach and devoted groundskeeper Curtis Smith.

Coaching took its physical and emotional toll on Smith because heconsidered each game so seriously. He went through cases of PeptoBismo as he worried before games and after the conclusion.

“I would pace the floor at night, especially after we lost,” saidSmith. “I don’t miss that stomach killing me and those long busrides. But I miss the kids.”

At Loyd Star, Smith played high school basketball under Jack Casewho had a major impact on his approach to coaching.

“(Case) was the type coach that resembled Bear Bryant,” said Smith,referring to the Alabama legend. “He could talk you into runningthrough a wall. He inspired me. He was close to the players.”

Case later won back-to-back state basketball championships in 1981and 1982 at West Lincoln.

Smith also inspired many of his players during 30 years of teachingand coaching.