Lewis Smith ‘71 was a champion, and his road to the highest level of collegiate athletics as a Michigan Wolverine ran through Rectory School. His accomplishments at Rectory and in life cause us to gather and celebrate Lew as we induct him posthumously into Rectory’s Athletic Wall of Honor.
Lew Smith attended two years at Rectory School, and he made quite an impression in that short period of time. He was imposing in appearance, a fact Mr. Bigelow aptly conveyed when writing a letter of recommendation for Lewis, who wished to attend Camp Tecumseh in the summer. “Dear Mr. Gager,” Mr. Bigelow wrote, “young Lewis Smith, about whom you have asked in your letter of April 21, is one of the biggest 13-year-olds I ever saw. I am 6 feet, but he looks down on me! Yet there is no flab on him; indeed he has the muscular development of a boy in his late teens who is on the high school wrestling team.”
Lew’s physical strength was unparalleled among his peers, but his success in sports, particularly wrestling, was due to more than just muscle. Mr. Groom, his former assistant wrestling coach at Rectory, remembers Lew’s intensity and drive to win. He also recalls Lew’s advanced wrestling knowledge and skill. Mr. Groom readily admits he was not responsible for this development, rather he credits Lew’s father, Newbold Smith, a former US Naval Academy wrestler, with this early training. Lew’s brother, Hank, confirmed this, noting that Newbold would shout instruction at meets throughout Lew’s matches. On vacations, Lew and Newbold would wrestle in the house, until the day Lew picked his father up off the ground with frightening ease. By his eighth grade year, Lew’s prowess on the football field, the wrestling mat, and the lacrosse field was legendary. Rather than allowing Lew to dominate even more in his ninth-grade year, Mr. Bigelow, following the recommendation of Dr. Mike Ellovich who stated, “Lewis cannot take another year at Rectory School because he has literally outgrown it,” agreed that Lew should move on to Avon Old Farms School.
Lew immediately established a presence in high school. At Avon, freshmen only play on the JV football team, and this was where Lew was sent on day one of practice, only to return to the varsity squad thirty minutes later after decimating the hugely overmatched underclassmen. Lew thrived at Avon, establishing a 49-1 wrestling record across his career, winning two New England championships and winning the Nationals his senior year, where he defeated an opponent who outweighed him by over 100 lbs. Lew was a multi-sport athlete who lettered in football, wrestling, and tennis at Avon, and he had John Green in his camp as he applied to colleges.
Mr. Green, who would eventually become Rectory’s headmaster, was very confident in his understanding of sport and his assessment of athletes. He was sure any college would have a winner in Lew Smith when he wrote:
Let me assure you Lou has the potential to be an all American football player. No doubt you have many well-meaning people making those sorts of seemingly extravagant statements, but mine is made with a great deal of understanding for the game of football and even more comprehension of the young man about whom I am making it. Lew is undoubtedly one of the best football prospects in this country and is being sought after by dozens of colleges.
In this case, Mr. Green was right, and the University of Michigan eagerly offered Lew a full scholarship to play football and wrestle in Ann Arbor. After years of hard work, he had made it to the top echelon of college athletics.
As can be the case in sports, Lew’s athletic highlights ended prematurely. Due to injury, he never took the field or the mat at Michigan, but that does not diminish his star quality in any way, as sports were just one part of Lew’s great stature.
In the same recommendation letter, Mr. Green also wrote, “In attempting to compensate for the handicap of a language disability, Lew has become one of the most persistent, determined, and industrious young men it has ever been my privilege to know.” Disabilities can define us or inspire us to achieve beyond what anyone–including ourselves—thought we could achieve. In the end, Lew’s personal growth, more than sports, stands as his greatest accomplishment.
I hope John Green kept up with Lew Smith, and I hope John knew that Lew, a struggling reader at Rectory, was drawn to reciting Shakespeare and poetry later in life. Lew rejoiced in discussions dealing with philosophy, and he was, as noted in his obituary, “a passionate student of history, art, music, and literature.” I also hope John got to meet Lew’s family because, beyond varsity letters and other athletic accolades, this is what I am sure Lew was most proud of.
To steal a phrase from Lew’s induction into Avon’s Athletic Hall of Fame, Lew “represents the best there is in the world of sport and in life.” We are proud this Michigan Wolverine first honed his skills as a Rectory Wolf, and we are honored—in the presence of Lew’s family—to induct him into Rectory’s Athletic Wall of Honor.
- Athletic Wall of Honor