SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - There are many terrific student-athletes at Western New England College. They represent the best in college athletics.
Senior women’s basketball player Kaylyn Smith of North Greenbush, New York is one of them.
It’s been a busy and challenging year at school for Kaylyn who has had to deal with a couple of difficult personal situations the past six months.
Last August her father Robert passed away following a long illness. He was 63 and a well-known teacher-coach in the Albany, New York Capital District.
Kaylyn, meanwhile, was attempting to bounce back from a torn ACL in her left knee that limited her to only four games last season. Ironically, she missed her junior season of basketball at Columbia High School because of a similar injury to her right knee.
This past October she also developed a serious MRSA infection and came down with a high fever and sharp pain in her back. Kaylyn became easily fatigued and her leg started to bother her in December.
Through it all, Kaylyn persevered and continued to support her teammates and the athletics department as the president’s of the school’s highly-regarded Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). Her organization raised over $500 during the holidays with their popular Teddy-Bear Toss program to support the area Toys-for-Tots program.
The holidays were tough for the entire Smith family, but Kaylyn returned to school feeling better and anxious to move ahead with her life.
The Importance of Teamwork
Growing up in a family of eight, Kaylyn Smith learned at an early age the importance of teamwork, hard work, and getting along with others.
Robert and Maggie Smith taught their children to encourage and respect one another. They also passed along their love of sports to their five daughters, Kristen, Kerry, Kelly, Kathleen, Kaylyn, and son Bobby, Jr.
Kaylyn thrived in the environment and enjoyed a successful career at Columbia High School in nearby East Greenbush where she was a captain and team MVP in both basketball and field hockey. She also was an All-League performer in both sports, and a letter winner in lacrosse.
Kaylyn heard about Western New England College from Paul Booth who is the men’s basketball coach at Norwich. Paul played his high school ball for Mr. Smith at Columbia High School. She took a tour of campus and enrolled as a Psychology/Education major.
Arriving at Western New England College, Kaylyn played field hockey her freshman year before devoting full-time attention to basketball. Even though she was away from home for the first time, she thought of her father every minute of every day.
Kaylyn, 21, was born eight years after her father was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1980. He had surgery the same year and wasn’t expected to recover, according to his wife.
“He told me that I held a special place in his heart because I was his second chance in life,” remarked Kaylyn.
And so did Bobby, Jr. who was born 10 years to the day that his father received the worst news of his life.
“Needless to say, my father was a very happy guy when Bobby arrived,” Kaylyn stated.
(Bobby made the Western New England College football team as a freshman this past fall before a foot injury sidelined him for the season.)
A Coach for all Seasons
Robert Smith was a sports icon in his hometown.
A four-sport standout at Cardinal McCloskey High School in Albany, he went on to play major college football at Auburn University. He earned degrees at both Auburn and North Adams State, which is now the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
Mr. Smith enjoyed a long career as a physical education teacher and administrator in the East Greenbush School District. He also coached boys’ basketball, football, and softball at Columbia High School, and served as assistant principal and director of athletics, health, and physical education until his retirement in 2002.
The East Greenbush School Board named the high school gym both the Robert J. Smith Gymnasium and Bob Smith Court in 2004. “My dad was so humbled, he couldn’t believe it. It was an unbelievable day,” recalled Kaylyn.
Despite his illness, Mr. Smith did his best to maintain an active lifestyle, and both he and his wife supported their children in all their activities.
“Bob had a lot of perseverance and never complained,” noted Mrs. Smith.
Not surprisingly, Kaylyn and her sisters and brother spent a lot of time at the gym.
“My dad taught us how to play basketball, and things like loyalty, love, hard work, commitment, and attitude,” she stated. “My parents always told us that once you commit to something, make sure you finish it. You give everything you have to make it successful.”
It wasn’t easy for the Smith children to watch their father struggle on a daily basis, especially with a permanent trach inserted in his throat to assist his breathing.
“When he became sick, he would go on a respirator, but would communicate with hand signals,” Kaylyn said. “A thumbs-up meant he was OK. He would raise his finger up when we left to let us know we were all number one in his life. He attended as many games as he could and retired when I was a sophomore in high school. Although he was sick, he was able to work and live like a normal person.”
Maggie Smith noted that Kaylyn and Bobby, Jr. truly understand what personal sacrifice is all about. “The last year of Bob’s life was such a roller coaster that they both gave up many weekends of being with friends to be home with Dad and Mom. They were the best as was the rest of our family,” she said.
The Western New England College Family
When her father passed away, Kaylyn was overwhelmed by the support she received from her friends at Western New England College.
“Many of my teammates came to his wake and funeral service, and everyone called and offered words of encouragement. That was something I’ll never forget.” she remarked.
While sidelined this year, Kaylyn didn’t miss a practice or game and made herself available if a teammate needed assistance.
Last week Kaylyn finally received some good news when she received the green light from her doctor to re-join the team.
She hasn’t played in two games yet, but says she will help the team in anyway possible.
“Kaylyn is the consummate teammate,” said Golden Bears' women’s basketball coach Nicole Chaszar. “She’s vocal whether she’s in the gym, on the bench, or in the locker room. Kaylyn is the first person to congratulate you after a great play and the first person to pick you up when you’re struggling. She’s been instrumental in creating the family atmosphere that makes our basketball program so special.”
This Saturday (February 13), the Golden Bears will celebrate “Think Pink Day” to support breast cancer awareness and research. It’s part of the school’s popular National Girls and Women in Sports Day on campus.
Kaylyn and her SAAC committee members have spent a lot of time organizing the event, which is among the highlights of the school year for the athletics department.
This semester she is working as an intern with Western New England College associate director of athletics Cyndi Costanzo.
Kaylyn plans to attend graduate school and begin a career in athletic administration, just like her dad.
The words of advice and encouragement she received from her parents growing up helped in her comeback.
“I miss my father a lot, but I was glad he was able to attend some of my games here at Western New England College,” she remarked. “He was a positive person and always there for us. That’s what I want to do for my teammates."