It was seven years ago that Liberty boys basketball coach Roger Stirtz created an opening on his staff for an assistant coach.
One of his own, he felt, was in line for a promotion.
So after 40 years as a manager of the Liberty basketball and football programs, Jack Smith was upgraded to the first seat on the bench for every Blue Jays basketball game.
“He deserved it,” Stirtz said. “One of the best supporters this school has ever seen.”
A fixture of Liberty athletics for the past 47 years, Smith died in his sleep Wednesday morning at his apartment. He was 65.
His impact was exemplified by the voicemails and text messages that filled Stirtz’s cell phone Wednesday. Liberty’s coach for the last 14 seasons, Stirtz received calls from parents, fans and former players, as well as coaches from other schools in the Kansas City area who had grown to know Smith’s positivity and kindness.
“He helped us in all aspects,” Stirtz said. “Everyone loved him. Our kids loved him. Even our opponents loved him.
“Our community is deeply saddened by his loss.”
Smith served as a ball boy for the football team.
In 2010, he won the Tom Colwell Lifetime Achievement Award, presented annually by the Greater Kansas City Basketball Coaches Association.
A graduate of Liberty in 1967, he was part of the boys basketball teams that won state championships in 1998 and 2001 and was there for the girls state title in 2007.
After his death Wednesday, the Liberty Public School District posted a message honoring Smith on its Facebook page. Less than 20 hours later, that message had been shared 71 times, with more than 40 friends commenting on the post that recognized a lost friend.
“He was the kind of guy that if you met him once, you met a friend,” Stirtz said. “He was a tremendous person to be around. He was a special guy.”