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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Injured Alton High School hoopster makes final basket

Friday, March 4, 2011

Alton High School senior Kevin Smith stands with his parents, Steven and Yuri Smith, on the basketball court Thursday, Feb. 24, before the start of the Senior Night game against Gainesville. Smith has not played with the team since he was critically injured in a car crash last June. Photo by Linda Greer
At the start of the Alton High School basketball match-up Thursday, Feb. 24, against Gainesville, Alton junior Mark Smith passed the ball to his brother, senior Kevin Smith, setting the stage for an emotional home game.

Both sides of the crowded bleachers groaned when the Comet's first basket attempt danced around the rim and dropped to the floor without yielding a point for Kevin Smith.

Three of senior Smith's classmates left the gym in tears.

Less than a minute later, Smith took the bench next to Assistant Coach Jason Qualls for what was to be the end of his high school basketball experience.

After a firm hug from Smith, Qualls turned his head and wiped away a tear. Many in the packed gym did the same as the game raced on in front of a senior night crowd.

Sports, sports, sports

Ever since their two sons were very young, Steven and Yuri Smith's schedule was filled with baseball, basketball and cross country games, meets and practices.

That all changed on a Sunday in June last year when Kevin, then 18, and 17-year-old Mark were hurled from the back seat of a 1998 Volkswagen on Highway 19, five miles north of Thayer.

Mark's classmate, Zane Hatten, then 17, was driving when another vehicle pulled into the Volkswagen's path.

Hatten swerved to avoid the vehicle. The Volkswagen ran off the road and overturned, ejecting both Smith boys and the third back seat passenger. Hatten and passengers Ethan Williams, of West Plains, and Channing Burd, of Alton, were not seriously injured.

Hatten and Burd, a junior, play on the Alton varsity basketball team, a position Kevin Smith had enjoyed three years.

After the crash

The days now for the Smith family are filled with speech sessions, physical therapy and doctor appointments.

"Everything is different," Yuri Smith said.

Yuri said she was in shock immediately after the crash, and then began the painful process of seeing both her sons in the hospital for weeks. Kevin spent four weeks in the intensive care unit, for a total of six weeks in the hospital with a traumatic brain injury.

Mark suffered a neck and spine injury and now has a metal screw in his neck. Kevin spent months in a body cast.

"They are tough boys," Yuri said.

Steven Smith said the boys' injuries affected the family tremendously.

"We had a boy who loved cross country, baseball and basketball, who was very good at all of it," Steven said of Kevin. "And this year, his senior year, he is not able to do anything."

Steven said the hospital time was most stressful.

"But, we're all here. We're happy. Everything is good," Steven said.

Alton High School Principal Eric Allen said the tragedy bonded more tightly the already close senior class of 60 students. Many of Kevin's classmates made the long trek to visit Kevin while he was in a Springfield hospital.

"Kevin is a real inspiration," Allen said. "He works so hard."

Kevin was unable to attend classes when school resumed last fall. After a time, he began attending a few hours a day, and now participates full time.

"When Kevin first came back and was only here a few hours a day, his classmates would make sure they saw him," Allen said.

Alton Coach Blake Reese, who has coached Kevin since grade school, said Kevin's dedication to school and sports motivates everyone to do their best. Kevin is well known among other schools' sports teams, as well, because of his friendly nature.

"He's as hard a worker as I've ever had," Reese said.


Reese spoke with Gainesville Coach Aaron Dalton before the Feb. 24 game, to tell him Kevin would be in for one minute at the game start. Dalton passed the word onto his players.

What Reese hadn't anticipated, however, is how Kevin's participation moved the crowd and the Gainesville Bulldogs. Kevin sat on the sidelines as his teammates played.

Late in the game, even though Alton was down by 18 points in the fourth quarter, Reese sent Kevin in to play one last time.

Coach Dalton took out all of his starters. Then, in an unforgettable gesture of sportsmanship, a Gainesville player tossed the ball to Kevin in the final moments of the game.

All eyes were on the basket as Kevin took his shot.

"While the buzzer was going off, the ball went in," Reese said.

After that, it was hard to get anyone to leave the gym, he said.

"Everyone just kept talking," Reese said. "Everyone loves Kevin."

The day after the game, Reese couldn't recall the final score. It was 65-50, Gainesville.

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