Dustin Smith is entering his seventh season as Athletic Director for the Greenwood School District, and the “good doctor” has loved every minute of it. The former University of Arkansas – Fort Smith AD succeeded the now retired Jerry Cecil in 2016, building upon the strong foundation laid by Cecil and his predecessor, the legendary H.B. Stewart.
But it’s been an unusually active summer break for Smith, who has earned a nice reputation among his peers, both statewide and nationally. Dr. Smith was recently selected to receive the 2022 Emerging Industry Leader Award by the National Center for Spectator Sport Safety and Security for his efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It's not something I expected, but was humbled to be recognized by a national organization, not just for me but for our school district, that we did things the right way,” he said in mid-July just days after receiving the resignation of Chad Mercado as Greenwood’s head baseball coach. Mercado’s departure was unexpected, but one of several vacancies Smith had to fill the past three months.
“It’s always subject to change, but every [position] has been filled at this time,” said Smith in a follow-up phone interview this past Wednesday, a day after announcing Brandon Brewer’s appointment as the new baseball coach. “Since I’ve been here, as far as coaching searches, yes, [it’s been busy], but that’s part of the job. It’s just part of what we do, finding the right people and doing what’s best for the kids. My job is to find the best coach for every sport and marry that to what the district needs (teaching duties).”
The late spring and early summer months have kept Smith hopping due to an unusual and somewhat surprising number of coaching changes, including several head coaches and a varsity assistant football coach. All those jobs have now been filled, with Brewer becoming the new varsity baseball head coach. He is returning to Greenwood from Owasso, Oklahoma, but grew up here, played for the Bulldogs, and graduated from Greenwood in 2010.
“He’s a Greenwood grad who also graduated from the College of the Ozarks in 2014,” said Dr. Smith. Brewer volunteered with Coach [Rick] Jones for one year, but he’s been at Owasso for seven years. Their head coach (Larry Turner) has been there 44 years (1,222-274) and won 14 state titles, including the 2022 state title in Class 6A.
“They are a powerhouse in baseball, and Brandon had worked his way up to the lead assistant,” revealed Smith. “Any time we have a chance to get a Bulldog [coach] who understands our program, our culture, and our community, that’s a no brainer in my mind. He’s a young man and I’m excited about him being here and leading our baseball program. He will also be teaching business classes.
"He has experienced success and been trained by a really great coach at Owasso. His pedigree, his knowledge of our program, his knowledge of the Greenwood community, those were big factors for him,” added Smith. “Owasso has been a top tier program in the country, not just in Oklahoma.”
Brewer was a senior outfielder for one of the best Bulldogs’ teams ever, going unbeaten in league play and 31-2 overall after being knocked out of the state playoffs in the semifinals. He batted .385 and had 28 RBIs for that team in 2010, earning all-conference honors. Along with his wife, Morgan, Brewer is quickly making plans to move back to his hometown with teachers scheduled to return to work this coming Friday.
The GHS girls softball program is also under new leadership with the hiring of Donald Hart to replace Ronnie Sockey, who left to return to Oklahoma as the boys varsity basketball coach at Poteau. Hired on June, Hart has already hit the ground running with his new team competing in several summer games in July.
A native of Magazine, Arkansas, Hart comes to Greenwood from Paris High School, where he’s been the head coach for the past five seasons, winning two-thirds of his games, including three 20-win campaigns. He inherits a team loaded with talented and experienced players, having lost just two seniors to graduation in May.
The new coach had to wait a while, but his staff has now been completed. Former softball assistant coach Brandon Elmore has left the coaching profession, accepting a teaching position in Fort Smith. Taking over for him will be Mike Possage, who is also the junior high boys assistant basketball coach, but has experience coaching softball in Oklahoma. Hart will also continue to be assisted by Diane Popp.
Elmore was also the defensive line coach for the varsity Bulldogs and his replacement on the gridiron is fresh out of college, but comes with a great pedigree as the younger brother of current GHS assistant coach Austin Moreton, one of the top offensive line coaches in the state. Hunter Moreton played on the defensive line at Arkansas State University and will take charge of the D-line for Head Coach Chris Young.
The Moreton brothers are also the youngest coaches on the GHS staff, the only assistants still in their twenties. Austin will also takeover leadership of the GHS bowling team along with volunteer assistant Barbara Brown, while Hunter replaces his brother as assistant wrestling coach for the Bulldogs.
The district also hired Tommy (T.J.) Coleman as the new junior high head basketball coach, replacing Jake Hindman, who left the coaching profession for an opportunity in the business world and a chance to spend more time with his young family. Coleman will also coach junior high boys track. Amy Hardy will continue as the girls junior high track coach in addition to her duties as head coach for the very successful junior high girls basketball team.
It was also recently announced that Lundon Lensing is the new girls golf coach. Lensing will continue as the assistant to Coach Hardy and the junior high girls. She is the daughter of Ronnie Williams, who retired recently from the district where he coached basketball and golf. She is also a former state champion golfer at Greenwood and winner of multiple state titles in basketball and one of the top scorers in school history.
Becky Ames was also named as assistant cross country coach, joining Head Coach Jim Andrews. Ames was already employed by the district as a teacher, but loves running and knows the sport well. Her daughter is also on the cross country team. “We wanted someone who really understands the sport,” said Dr. Smith of Ames.
Jason Gill will take over boys track in 2023, with Jim Andrews coaching girls varsity track. Coach Brian Sims will just coach junior high football after leading the GHS track program for many years. Gill is also the defensive coordinator for the varsity Bulldogs football team.
Besides all the new hires, Smith also revealed some plans to upgrade athletic facilities on campus, though some projects have been delayed or put on hold until later. The district has plans to add a press box to the visitors’ side of Smith-Robinson Stadium, but that may not happen until the 2023 football season. Discussions have also been held concerning a new multiple-sport facility for tennis, baseball, and softball, but nothing is planned for the immediate future.
“We have laid the pad for a batting cage at the softball field,” revealed Smith. “It’s an open-air covered facility. We’ll also be working on dugouts for softball [next spring]. Next week we’re adding shot clocks in the arena for varsity basketball and we’re air conditioning the PE gym. There may be some more things in the works that will enhance Friday nights, but we’re still trying to nail those down,” said the Greenwood AD.
Asked about the changes to the conference lineups this year, Smith said, “We’re going to see Little Rock Christian and Pulaski Academy [in football] that we haven’t seen in a while. In the other [varsity] sports the only thing that’s going to look different is we lose Vilonia and pick up Harrison. Everybody else is the same in the conference.” On the high school level, Greenwood football plays in Class 6A, while all other sports compete in the 5A division.
“The junior high conference is also going to look different because we don’t have any Fort Smith schools,” said Smith. “Football will have the additions of Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, Shiloh Christian, Dardanelle, and Farmington.” The freshmen Bulldogs will continue to play Siloam Springs, Van Buren, Harrison, and Alma in conference while taking on Sallisaw, OK, in their only non-conference game. The old River Valley Conference has now become the Northwest River Valley Conference.
As for Smith’s passion and love for his job and previous six years at Greenwood, he says he may have underestimated the role he could play in the lives of kids. “I didn’t appreciate the opportunity to impact kids’ lives. But I think I’ve become more intentional in building those relationships. It’s why I do what I do. It gives me the opportunity to see kids excel, to see kids compete and succeed, and success looks different for everybody.
“I’ve changed my perspective on what success really looks like,” he further reflected. “I’m not lowering my standards, I’m being realistic. The sustained success we’ve had [at Greenwood] is uncharted territory, and I don’t think we appreciate what we’re actually experiencing.” Hopefully, Smith and his coaches will continue their pursuit of excellence for the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs for years to come in one of the best sports towns in Arkansas.