Alumni Spotlight: Ernie Smith ’56

Ernie Smith '56
Ernie Smith '56

"Those were pretty great marks you had," Ernie Smith '56 said when being introduced to Emily Bassett '18 while on campus in April. "58.9 meters in the hammer. I'm impressed."

"Wow, how'd you know that?" Bassett said in response. "I read the stories and pay attention online," Smith said.

As the first great all-around track & field throws competitor during the Pomona-Claremont era, Smith set quite a few records in his day. So when Bassett broke a Claremont-Mudd-Scripps record in the hammer throw on March 31 for the Athenas, he appreciated her efforts.

"I stay interested [in CMC] because I had a great experience here, and I learned a lot that I've used in life," Smith said.

Smith has been one to pay attention to details since he first heard Pomona-Claremont assistant football coach Jesse Cone bellow the phrase "a lot of little things make a big thing," to the lineman during practice on a hot, late-August day in 1953.

Coach Cone and head coach Fuzz Merritt constantly stressed the importance of details to the players they coached, and the team along with Smith excelled, winning three-straight SCIAC championships (1953-55). "That's why we won," Smith said.

Smith took the teachings of Coach Cone from the gridiron, and used them to become great in the discus, javelin, and shot put. His commitment to details, fundamentals, technique, and weight lifting  - a rarity during his era - helped him reach distances of 52-4 ¾ feet in the shot put, 146-8 feet in the discus and 206-10 feet in the javelin, all of which were school records when he graduated. Smith, a CMS Hall of Famer, is still fourth in the CMS record books in the javelin and fifth in the shot put.

After graduation, Smith competed in the 1956 Summer Olympic Trials at the Los Angeles Coliseum in front of 90,000 fans.

"When you walk out on the field, and you're from a small college, it was quite a thrill," Smith said. "I was nervous but I told myself, 'boy, this is it, this is the ultimate opportunity.'"

Smith didn't place in the Olympic Trials, and he stepped away from track & field shortly thereafter to raise his family and work in the family concrete construction business. In 1965, Smith stepped back into the track & field arena in a different capacity. He helped organize and run the Arcadia Invitational from its inception in 1965 until 2000. He also officiated California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) boys and girls preliminary, finals, masters, and state meets. 

The urge to compete though never left him. So at 71 years old and nearly five decades after the Olympic Trials, he began competing again; this time in Masters track & field throw events.

Smith trained on campus one or two times per week with fellow Masters competitor and CMS track & field and cross-country coach John Goldhammer. They had met at a CMS track & field alumni event years before.

"My mind told me things my body couldn't do," Smith said about competing later on in life, "so John taught me the senior shuffle to simplify some of the motions."

Smith competed for 12 years at the Masters level with the goal in mind of becoming an All-American and medaling at a national competition. He reached his goal when he won bronze in a national and international meet.

At 84 years of age now, Smith doesn't compete anymore, but sports are still a big part of his life. He gets his sports fill now by watching CMS events online and following the Athenas and Stags in everything from basketball to track & field.