Following their league championship, Swanton head coach Matt Smith embraces the trophy along with his two daughters, Kinsley (left) and Rylee. Smith, a former Paulding Panther and 2000 graduate, has his team in the Division III district tournament and will play Delta on Thursday at Anthony Wayne High School.
Following their league championship, Swanton head coach Matt Smith embraces the trophy along with his two daughters, Kinsley (left) and Rylee. Smith, a former Paulding Panther and 2000 graduate, has his team in the Division III district tournament and will play Delta on Thursday at Anthony Wayne High School.
By JOE SHOUSE

Progress Staff Writer

jshouse@progressnewspaper.org

One former Paulding Panther basketball player is making a name for himself on the basketball court. No longer in uniform or shooting jump shots, Matt Smith, a 2000 graduate from PHS is the varsity coach at Swanton where he has his Bulldogs playing in the district tournament. Swanton will play Delta following the Paulding-Ottawa Glandorf match-up on Thursday, part of a doubleheader at the Whitehouse district tournament in Division III.

After a successful career at Paulding in leading the Panthers to a Northwest Conference title, Smith spent a brief time at Defiance College and then transferred to the University of Toledo where he received his teaching degree.

While attending UT, Smith, who always wanted to be a coach, got a taste of pacing the sidelines when he landed a coaching job at Toledo Start High School. There, he spent six years gaining experience while coaching at the freshman and junior varsity level.

“When I was at Toledo Start I was settling in and it was about time for the varsity coach to retire. I could have probably stayed and got the head coaching job,” said Smith.

While contemplating the Toledo Start possibility, the Swanton job came open. Needing a teaching job and having the desire to coach, Smith applied for the Swanton job, knowing he had nothing to lose.

“I was told not to go, the program can’t win, which was somewhat true. They had only two winning seasons in the league and had come to accept their role as a doormat in the conference,” said Smith.

Even after hearing all the negatives, Smith was convinced he could make the program a winner. And so, as a young 26-year-old head coach, he took the job and has been at Swanton for the last seven years.

A science teacher in the early part of his career, Smith now serves as the dean of students at the junior high level. Right now, as the head basketball coach, he is the toast of the town. The school as well as the community are enthusiastic about their Bulldogs.

It’s not been easy, according to the former Panther. It’s been a seven-year process but it’s a process he would not change even if he could. With all the struggles, the ups and downs, looking back Smith knows that it’s all been worth it.

“When I came here, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew if we would work hard, we could get the job done. The first year we might have gotten five or six wins, then the following year it was eight, then nine, and 12 and now we are 18-5 and playing in the districts. The first year we had two wins in the conference and this year we were 7-1 and conference champs,” commented the Bulldog mentor.

Smith has put together this year’s team thinking they would be pretty good. The appears promising for the Bulldogs with three key players in the starting lineup from the junior class.

“It’s all coming around and the future looks bright but right now we are enjoying this moment. The town is all abuzz and the support has been fantastic,” said Smith. “It’s been a slow process but worth all the work and time.”

Speaking of support, Kregg Creamer, who was Matt’s high school coach at Paulding is a big fan of what Smith has accomplished in his young career. Creamer, now athletic director at Dixie High School near Dayton, made the trip to see Matt and the Bulldogs win their league championship a couple of weeks ago.

“Coach Creamer as well as Coach Shawn Brewer at Paulding have been very supportive. Many times I’ve called them up and they have shared advice, encouragement and support. I have nothing but fond memories of my high school days and the coaches who helped me succeed, ” he said.

Smith admits that he took a lot from Creamer and Brewer when it comes to his style of coaching. Creamer was one very intense coach and when the ball was tipped up to start the game, Creamer was more than ready to battle his opponent.

“That’s a lot like who I am. I love the game and the opportunity to coach the kids. We work hard as a coaching staff and the players give it their best. We are beginning to see the positive results from the hard work and dedication,” Smith said.

Matt and his wife, Lindsay, live in Whitehouse and have two young girls, Rylee, age 4, and 2-year-old Kinsley. Matt looks at Swanton and the challenges he faces as being similar to Paulding. “Both communities are blue collar. Paulding is where I learned the importance of hard work and family values. I appreciate my Paulding roots and believe my growing up in Paulding County has helped me to the husband, father, teacher and coach that I am today.”

Matt’s parents, Dave and Debbie Smith, still live in rural Paulding as does his grandparents, Ivan and Pat Arend. Dave is a bus driver for Paulding Exempted Schools.

Matt jokingly said, “They still live in Paulding, even on the same road, but I have made Swanton fans out of them. They attend all the games and they will be at the game on Thursday,” he said.

It’s been a great year and Matt confesses that he probably won’t really enjoy it or appreciate all the fun the coaching staff and the team has experienced until it’s all over and he has the opportunity to relax and reflect on it all.

“I don’t think I have worked any harder this year than any other year as a coach. There have been times in seven years when we took a step forward and two steps back. Like any team, we have dealt with injuries and troubled kids but I have remained patient and I guess that has been the hardest part – patience.”