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Family ties

Pamela Smoak takes over reins to CHS girls’ tennis program while following in the footsteps of her f

Posted: August 20, 2018 3:19 p.m.
Updated: August 21, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

CAMDEN GIRLS’ TENNIS COACH Pamela Smoak talks to her father, Roger Smoak, the winningest tennis coach in South Carolina High School League history, before a Lady Bulldog practice last week.

OK, let’s get out the calculators for this one.

If first-year Camden High girls’ tennis coach Pamela Smoak were to try and eclipse her father Roger Smoak’s boys’ tennis state record 502 coaching victories at Camden High, she would need to average 15 wins per season for nearly 34 years. That figure does not count some 200 victories which the coaching legend amassed coaching the Lady Bulldogs each fall.

While laughingly saying she will never take the family lead in that category, Pamela Smoak does know one thing; she will have younger brother Stephen beat after the Lady Bulldogs win their first match of the 2018 season.

“I will never catch my dad. I should have started earlier if I was going to catch my dad,” she said of her fledgling career. “I may have more wins than my brother will have.”

Smoak accepted the Lady Bulldog job this past spring with former head coach Col. Tim Webb being allowed to focus on his duties as head coach of the Camden High boys’ team. She takes over a team which returns sophomore first singles player and 2017 Region 4-AAA player of the year Imani Wyatt from a squad which won the conference crown last fall.

As part of her team practiced on the courts bearing her father’s name at the Camden High Sports Complex on Ehrenclou Drive last week, the air was filled with dust from trucks coming into and leaving the area in which large mounds of dirt are stockpiled for use on the road construction project in the area in and around Ehrenclou Drive.

The sounds of balls bouncing off the strings of tennis rackets were obliterated by that of front loaders dumping dirt into the back of a truck to be taken to another area of a project which, at the time, had shut down a main entrance into the facility. All the noise and work around the area nearly had Pamela Smoak yearning for a return to the days when Camden played its matches and practiced at the nearby courts on the corner of Campbell and York streets.

“I’ll say this,” said Smoak of the conditions in the vicinity of the team’s courts, “one day, I came in the morning and (the highway department workers) told me how to tell my players to get into the courts. By the afternoon, that route had changed and I had to make three or four phone calls to my players to try and help them figure out how to get to their own tennis courts.

“It’s a little dusty. It makes me almost miss, temporarily, the old courts. It’s a little loud here but, it’s good. It’s a home court advantage.”

In what was the last week before school, numbers were light for the Lady Bulldogs who had several players still with their families on vacation. In fact, Smoak said she would not know what her team would be like or, where players will be placed in the rotation until the start of classes this week. Along with Wyatt, some of the players on the preseason roster include seniors Mary Lindsay, Haleigh Scott and Alexis Setzer; juniors Emily Guy and Sailor McKoy; sophomore Renne Jordan; freshman Elizabeth Reames and Anne Hutto, a seventh-grader. Smoak anticipates adding more players to the roster in the coming days.

For Pamela Smoak, just being at Camden High has brought her full circle. After having lived and worked in Spartanburg as a physical therapist for most of the past two decades after graduating from Converse College, she said it is good to be back home.

Since returning to Camden in 2015, she has found herself getting back into the swing of tennis in helping her nieces and nephew, all junior tennis players. Through feeding balls to and hitting with them, she has rekindled her love for the game. “I forgot how much I loved it,” she said with a smile.

When the chance to become part of the Camden High athletic family presented itself to her, it was too good an opportunity for Smoak to pass up.

“It’s been wonderful. It’s been great,” said Smoak who, as a junior at CHS in 1988, helped lead the Lady Bulldogs to the AAA Lower State championship. “I forgot how much fun it could be. I’ve enjoyed it.”

Taking a cue from her father, Pamela Smoak got down to basics in her first days on the job. Having so many young players on the team has led to the Lady Bulldogs starting from the ground up. Practice sessions include plenty of footwork and being in position to get to the ball and then get back to receive it. It is hardly glamorous but, it is necessary.

“We’re going back to the fundamentals because that is where you win or lose matches,” she said. “I know that when I played for my dad sometimes, I got tired of practicing the fundamentals because it wasn’t as much fun as the games. In retrospect, I realize that is where it all starts. You have to have good fundamentals.”

On this day, Roger Smoak was helping his daughter and her full-time assistant coach, Melissa Haney, with practice. If you didn’t know better, you might have thought it was pre-2008, when Roger Smoak coached his final match. The smile was still there and the tips he was providing the girls were the same which he doled out from when he first took over the tennis program at the school in 1967.

As she watched her father on the court, Pamela Smoak seemed to be enjoying it as much as he was. It was almost as if she was being transported back to her teenage years.

“It’s been wonderful to have dad around. This is precious time for us together,” she said. “It’s fun to reverse roles with me being the head coach and asking him questions and for his thoughts on things.

“He definitely missed it. There’s still a lot of coach in him. He loves it. He truly loves it.”

One difference between when Smoak played at CHS and now is that girls now have more options when it comes to joining a fall sports program with volleyball, cross country, golf and cheerleading being offered in the fall. Having so many choices has almost led to coaches becoming recruiters in trying to add the best talent to their roster. Smoak said she hopes she will be able to attract her fair share of young ladies to her program.

“There are so many sports and events that are in the fall and the girls like all of those sports,” she said. “Year to year, you don’t know what child is going to play which sport and you feel fortunate when you get those girls to play on your team. My goal is to make it so much fun that they want to be out here.”

Having the returning player of the year in Wyatt, Smoak said her team has the goal of repeating as Region 4-AAA champion and then, going as far in the playoffs as possible. “We hope to win the region, again. It’s in my blood to want to win. It just is,” she said.

That goal is for on the court. As for the program itself, Pamela Smoak wants to keep the wins coming and continue a tradition started by her father and continued by her predecessor. Already, she has heard from some of her former teammates who have reached out to her and have told her how excited they are that she has taken the job as head girls’ tennis coach.

“My hope for these girls is that they will have the same great memories as we did. I want to teach them some tennis, teach them a lot about life, let them have fun and, hopefully, win a lot of matches,” Smoak said.

“I’m hoping for good things and more than anything else, I want them to have a good time.”


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