Presidio Sports Figure of the Month

Westmont Coach Russell Smelley Honored

Russell Smelley, a faculty member and athletics coach at Westmont College.

Each Month, Presidio Sports recognizes a local sports figure for their extraordinary contribution to the Santa Barbara athletic community. It is our way to recognize those who are making a lasting impact in our sports community, whether it is an inspirational athletic performance, a lifetime achievement award, or perhaps a great example of leadership.

As a young boy, his dream was to teach history and coach back home in Prince George County, Virginia. He later studied English and physical education and ran cross-country and track and field for the University of Richmond. After graduation, he was enticed to stay and pursue his Master’s degree in education and coach the school’s first-ever women’s track and field team.

A teaching and coaching offer from Westmont College brought Russell Carleton Smelley to Santa Barbara in 1979. Now in his 36th year as a kinesiology professor and track-and-field and cross-country coach for the Westmont Warriors’ men’s and women’s teams — he’s vaulted these programs to great heights.

But more than anything else, Coach Smelley has nurtured many young lives and is now being lauded for his leadership commitment to integrity in sports and for his personal priority of character development of student-athletes. He’ll soon receive the prestigious 2014 Coach of Character Award from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

“Coach Smelley is a fantastic example of how to be competitive and achieve success in athletics on the field while remaining unwavering in a commitment to teaching character and being a role model for both student athletes and coaches alike,” wrote Dave Odell, Westmont AD in his NAIA nomination bid.

The award is an annual honor given to a head coach of an NAIA institution who has been outstanding in embracing the five core values of the NAIA Champions of Character initiative—be empowering, visionary, interconnected, generous, and energetic—and for using methods of teaching character through sport and in community leadership through volunteering or service.

“Coach not only sets high standards for performance, training, and day-to-day behavior for his athletes, but also sets the bar high in community consciousness,” said Laurie Leighty, Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table president. “He is a role model for all of us in living life with integrity and commitment.”

Smelley has been shared his coaching and character philosophy around the world—he led special seminars at the London Olympics, and given talks in South Africa as well. “His presence in our community demonstrates how much positive influence a coach can have outside of practice or on the field of play,” said Joe Howell, Santa Barbara community leader. “Russell Smelley is a local coaching icon and the NAIA could not have selected a more deserving person to be named as the 2014 Coach of Character.”

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