For Warren East senior Tyler Smith, baseball and football have been the perfect escape.
Smith suffered a lifetime of heartache in a nine-month span, losing three of the people he was closest to. Smith’s father, Steve Smith, and uncle, Frank Smith, died of heart attacks in a five-month span. Smith’s good friend and baseball teammate Michael Vincent was killed in a car accident.
Through all the loss, Smith remained resilient with the help of his extended family on the gridiron and diamond.
“It’s been very hard on me the last two years, but I’ve had my friends and family behind me the whole way,” Smith said. “It’s helped me a lot. Sports has helped me a lot more, getting to go and be around the things I love. I think it would have been really hard on me because having your friends with you makes it a whole lot easier.”
Smith’s perseverance has been recognized as he has been named to the 2013 Tom Leach All-Resilency team – awarded to Kentucky athletes who have shown resiliency in their lives.
“He picked himself up and he kept going,” former Warren East football coach Ben Bruni said. “He refused to quit.”
It all began for Smith early on Sept. 22, 2011, when he was awoken by his mother.
Smith’s father, who had shown no signs of health difficulties, suffered a heart attack. Smith, a volunteer firefighter for the Gott Volunteer Fire Department, attempted CPR until the paramedics arrived.
Steve didn’t make it.
Despite the loss, Smith kept going, even playing in Warren East’s football game two nights later.
Smith also took solace in having his uncle there for him. He was someone to talk to and hunt with while he worked through the difficult period. But that comfort dissipated five months later when his uncle also suffered a fatal heart attack.
“He was my hunting partner,” Smith said. “He was with me when I killed my first deer, my first turkey. He was a big part of my life. It was really hard.”
Faced with the difficulty of losing another loved one, Smith turned to his good friend Vincent.
“I was hanging out with Michael all the time,” Smith said. “We would hunt, fish together. We were always together. He stayed at my house a lot.”
But again tragedy struck when Vincent was killed in a car accident June 6, 2012.
“It was like everything he touched left him,” said his mother, Melody Smith. “At one point he was scared to lose anything. He was terrified. But he’s overcame that. We’ve worked together and he’s doing OK.
“He’s a strong, good-hearted, loving person. When he goes through something he is a very quiet person. He tries to hold it in and be strong for everybody else, but it was a whole lot hit at one time. If it hadn’t been for the baseball and the football and people like that, he would have just given up.”
Smith said his teammates were important during the difficult times. He said sports kept him busy and helped ease the pain of his losses.
“Having baseball and football, it’s like one big family,” Smith said. “Yeah, you have a love and hate relationship with each other, but you step inside that field house or on that diamond, everything goes away and you are close. They helped me when I needed to talk. They had my back.”
Smith played on and enjoyed success. He played as a linebacker for the football team that advanced to the Class 4A semifinals, recording 25 total tackles with an interception and a fumble recovery.
He has appeared in eight games this season for the baseball team, making six starts.
Warren East baseball coach Wes Sanford said Smith is an inspiration.
“He’s a greater man than I am,” Sanford said. “He’s gone through a lot of stuff that I can never imagine myself enduring.”
Smith will miss Warren East’s game Thursday to attend a banquet at Papa John’s Stadium in Louisville, where he will receive the Tom Leach award.
Smith said he is really excited about receiving the award, but is also hopeful that his story can help other teens through difficult times.
“This lets people know how you can get through so much stuff,” Smith said. “You can push through it.”