Jason Smith took over the West Lauderdale baseball job with the goal of maintaining the program’s history of excellence.
It was a tall order following the previous coach, Jerry Boatner, since Boatner had not just amassed more than 1,200 wins but also won 14 state championships in baseball at West Lauderdale over the span of several decades.
There was a lot of pressure, but Smith, a longtime assistant of Boatner’s at West Lauderdale prior to the latter’s retirement in 2018, said he was more than adequately prepared to step in as head coach when the time came.
Three years later, Smith and the Knights celebrated a state championship once again as West Lauderdale swept Sumrall in the MHSAA Class 4A state championship series June 4-5 to win the program’s 15th title.
Because of the Knights’ accomplishments this spring, Smith was named the Premier Preps baseball Coach of the Year.
“It’s a great honor,” Smith said. “We have tremendous coaches in this area of the state, so to be recognized in that capacity means a lot.”
Smith was quick to credit assistant coaches Jody Hurst, Dustin Hamrick and Jamie Brown, saying the experience they each brought to the staff couldn’t be quantified.
“They did an outstanding job,” Smith said. “The coaching staff has both great playing experience and great coaching experience. Putting that all together, I can rely on them in any situation for advice or to help make decisions.”
After spending so many years coaching the Knights as an assistant, Smith said his mentor taught him things about baseball and coaching that he applies now that he’s head coach.
“I’m most grateful for Coach Boatner taking the time to show me how to teach each position of baseball in detail, for mentoring me and treating me like his own son,” Smith said.
He also said the players deserve a lot of the credit for the 2021 team’s success, as their approach to the season following the 2020 season’s cancelation due to the COVID-19 pandemic was exemplary.
“It was the mentality of making every moment count and not taking anything for granted and embracing any opportunity that you have that made this group special,” Smith said.
Though he had been part of several staffs at West Lauderdale that won state championships, Smith said winning his first state title as a head coach was special.
“It’s a great feeling,” Smith said. “I’m very excited for the community and the fans, the players and all of the supporters for continuing the tradition of excellence and having a 15th state championship for West Lauderdale,” Smith said.