Randy Smith: The Loss Of A Hero

  • Friday, May 17, 2024
  • Randy Smith
The man who has been my hero, my rock and someone I looked up to all my life died this morning. My Uncle, Gene Trotter passed away after a short but brutal battle with Leukemia. He would have been 91 years old in a few weeks. He was an amazing athlete, playing college basketball and baseball at Austin Peay in the early 1950s but he made his mark in life as a teacher, coach and educator. He was a pioneer because he coached the first integrated team to ever play in the TSSAA Girls State Basketball Tournament at his alma mater, Waverly Central High School.

He was the subject of my book, "Seasons of Change" I wrote a few years ago.
He refused to allow the racism that engulfed the 1960s to damage his basketball team. His black players were spit upon, cursed and tormented practically every time they stepped on the court. Still, they were able to put together a record of 63-2 during the 1967-68 seasons, winning the 1968 state championship. His best player on that team was Sally Smith who would later become the first African-American woman to be named a college All-American while playing at the legendary Nashville Business College.

He took the TSSAA head on when they advised him that he should leave his black players at home before coming to the Region 5 tournament in Nashville in 1965. According to them people just, "weren't ready" for that kind of change. He refused...brought them with the rest of his team and suffered the consequences when game officials made numerous bad calls resulting in an early exit from the tournament. The stance he took wasn't popular but it was the right thing to do.

After putting together an overall record of 578-120, he left coaching and went into school administration. He would work as an assistant principal, a principal, school superintendent, and after finally retiring he served several years as the chairman of the Humphreys County School Board. He sold real estate, was an auctioneer and was always active in the Waverly United Methodist Church. He loved his community and his community loved him.

Gene Trotter was 18 years older than me. He always referred to me as, "more like a little brother than a nephew." I lived in Nashville, while he and his family lived in Waverly but whenever we would go visit my grandparents, I couldn't wait to see him. We played ball together and later he would take me with him to his team's practices...both basketball and football as he also coached football at Waverly.

He was always there when I needed him, giving me advice when I was in college trying to decide what to major in. I majored in physical education because I wanted to be a coach like him. And when my broadcasting career began to look more promising, he was always supportive of me and was proud of everything I accomplished.

Losing a parent or a grandparent is tough but losing the man who always meant so much to you is equally heart-breaking. Rest easy Uncle Gene and save me a seat on the bench.

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Randy Smith can be reached at rsmithsports@epbfi.com.
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