GARY | Earl Smith Jr. remembers coming home during a school break at Iowa and chatting with then-city athletic director Johnny Kyle.
"I wanted to be a writer and told Johnny I was majoring in journalism," Smith said. "He said: 'You want to eat? Major in elementary education.'
"So I went back and switched over."
Upon graduating, Smith landed a teaching position in Gary.
Now, 56 years later, the longtime city athletic director is retiring as the school corporation undergoes downsizing and sweeping personnel changes.
"They're not sure where they're at with the (AD) position. There are a lot of avenues to be taken," Smith said Monday. "I'd still have a position in this school corporation, but nobody's said what."
The Roosevelt grad and two-sport (football, track) standout at Iowa spent 56 years as a teacher, coach, administrator and the last dozen or so as city AD.
Gary has only three high schools left in the old Northwestern Conference — Roosevelt, Lew Wallace and West Side — and could be down to just West Side in another year or two.
Smith coached in some capacity at Wallace, Froebel, Emerson, West Side and Tolleston high schools.
He was the first black head basketball coach at Emerson and took a team to the school's first semistate in 41 years.
He was the first black head basketball coach at Wallace and took a team to its first semistate in 35 years.
"I've gone to quite a few funerals of my former players," Smith said. "When you come in contact with kids and talk to families, you realize what an impact you have on their lives as a coach and administrator.
"What's most gratifying to me is the thousands of lives I touched. It gave me the longevity I needed in this capacity."
Smith and his wife of 46 years, Roberta, hope to do some traveling now. He had also promised former coaching legend John D. Smith that he would follow the Gary author's lead and write a book about his own personal experiences those 56 years.
"Earl has done a fabulous job when things weren't great, like finances, but what else can you do?" said retired Roosevelt coach Ron Heflin. "He spent a lot of time, quality time, on the job. My hat goes off to him.
"You've got to have a lot of people in Gary interested in (saving its) athletics, not just one."