ANNA — When Anna senior and two-sport star Elijah Smith signed his scholarship letter of intent to run track for Hutchinson Community College in Hutchinson, Kansas, on May 4, it was the culmination of years of anticipation. Eighteen, to be exact.
“I’ve been looking forward to this day since I brought him home from the hospital,” Smith’s mother Tawana Smith said last week at Anna High School. “I’m extremely proud of him for going to the next step.”
During his time as a Coyote, Smith was a four-year varsity track athlete as well as a four-year basketball starter. He didn’t just participate, though. He excelled — as a freshman on Anna’s state-qualifying 400- meter relay team; in returning to state in the 400 meters as a sophomore; in being tabbed the Coyotes’ track MVP three years in a row; in nabbing All-District picks in basketball, with Defensive MVP honors last season; and in helping lead the Coyotes to two basketball district titles.
“From Day 1, when I saw ‘EJ’ in the seventh grade, I knew that he was going to be a great athlete for us,” Anna boys track coach Jeremy Patton said. “He’s made kind of a living off of chasing people down and beating them at the finish line. He’s definitely going to be missed. … But more than anything, he’s a really good kid. I don’t recall him ever having to sit in the principal’s office or anything like that. That’s a testament to his mom.”
“It’s been amazing,” Tawana said. “I’ve always said I’m his biggest fan — but it’s no surprise. Put the kid in any sport, he did well. He played football in middle school and we had to make a decision: Can you really do three sports in high school? He was at that point where he could have gone varsity in three sports. … Track was a sport that he just easily and naturally excelled at from since seventh grade.”
Smith’s name is preserved on Anna track’s school-record board in four events: the triple jump, the 400 meters, the 200 relay and the 400 relay.
“He’s probably one of the most decorated kids that we have,” Patton said. “He’s just one of those special kids. … If it hadn’t been for a hindering hamstring, he probably would be warming up for Austin this week. He had the potential to be there just about every year.”
Anna boys basketball coach Kyle Phifer said Smith’s influence on the program has been huge.
“The four years that he was on varsity, they won 98 games,” Phifer said. “I think any kid who’s played a big part in that, you understand the type of kid they are: a winner, a great personality, a big-time energy guy. And kids just like being around him.”
The 5-10 Smith was the team’s second-leading scorer last season, averaging 13.6 points per game while posting 142 rebounds, 76 assists and 66 steals.
“It was scary at first,” Smith said of taking the “next-step” plunge. “Just the fact that I actually signed into a college for continuing my track career. Four years I’ve dealt with high school, now I’m going to a major step. It’s not a university, it’s a JUCO, which is still a really big opportunity for me. And the fact that five percent of track runners ever get a scholarship … that’s pretty huge for me. … Where I’m at now, going to Hutchinson, is because I pushed myself. And I plan on pushing myself even harder at Hutchinson.”
Smith said Hutchinson track coach Pat Becher sees him competing for the Blue Dragons in the 400, 600 and 800 meters.
“The facility there was nice, the school was nice,” Smith said. “(Becher) was a very nice coach to talk to. I didn’t feel uncomfortable or anything. First things first: You’ve got to get along with the coach. And the school itself, it was a decent-sized place. I don’t know, something about it made me like it.”
Smith said his academic interests will center on automotive technology.
“Outside of sports, I have been a part of cars my whole life. This year I’ve started actually doing things with my own car, personally. I still want to learn a lot more. When I heard they have automotive technology at Hutchinson, that really caught my eye.”
Coyote hoop fans can look forward to Smith’s brother Bryce, an eighth-grader this fall, to perhaps add to Smith’s legacy.
“They’re two totally different basketball players,” Tawana said. “He is a shooter. Defense he has to work on.”
Smith joked that he’s working with Bryce on his shot. As a top Coyote memory, Smith named his trip to the state track meet as a freshman. What will he miss most about Anna?
“I’m going to miss my friends, first and foremost,” he said. “And the teachers here, I love them. I’ll miss them — and my coaches, for sure. Even though (Hutchinson) is far away from Anna, far away from home, from my family, my friends, I’ll still have somewhere to come back to.”