Franklin Towne’s Smith is a big man on campus


For Steve Smith, be­com­ing “the man” at Frank­lin Towne Charter star­ted out al­most ac­ci­dent­ally.

Smith, a seni­or track and bas­ket­ball star at the school, has also served at the head of Towne’s stu­dent gov­ern­ment as class pres­id­ent in all four of his years. 

“It’s kind of a long story,” he be­gins, when asked about be­ing class pres­id­ent. “One of my friends sug­ges­ted it to me. He was like, ‘Hey, Barack Obama just be­came the first black pres­id­ent, so you should run, too!’ I thought, ‘Hey, maybe that’s not a bad idea.’”

OK, so maybe storytelling isn’t Smith’s biggest strength, but con­sid­er­ing he does so much else for Frank­lin Towne, it’s easy to toss him a re­prieve. He’s been one of Towne’s most vo­cal, vis­ible am­bas­sad­ors since he ar­rived at the school as a fresh­man. 

He re­ceived a ma­jor­ity of the vote in his first stu­dent gov­ern­ment elec­tion, and be­came in­stantly drawn to the give-and-take re­la­tion­ship between the school’s fac­ulty/ad­min­is­tra­tion and stu­dent body. Smith knew right away that he wanted to be more in­volved, if only for how good it made him feel to give back to the place that was already of­fer­ing him so many new op­por­tun­it­ies to stand out.

He went out for the bas­ket­ball team later that year, mak­ing the squad but not play­ing much. Dur­ing the spring, he star­ted fol­low­ing his friends out­side and would stand for hours, in­tently watch­ing them from the side­lines at track prac­tice. It was then that Towne’s track coach, Steve New, no­ticed Smith.

“Fi­nally, I yelled out to him, ‘Dude, if you’re go­ing to just stand there for two hours, why not come out and prac­tice?,’” New re­calls with a laugh. “Next sea­son, there he was.”

Smith has come a long way as a dec­ath­lete in just three short years. He’s a qual­i­fied run­ner in stand­ard track and field events such as the 200- and 400-meter dashes, but where Smith really proves his mettle is in events most high school stu­dent-ath­letes wouldn’t give a second thought. 

To hear him tell it, Smith’s strongest event is the high jump, one he placed first in dur­ing last week’s Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ships at 6 feet, 1 inch (a 73-inch ver­tic­al leap). He also placed second in the 300-meter hurdles, and has found ad­di­tion­al suc­cess throw­ing both the javelin (first place) and shot put (second place). Smith also av­er­aged al­most 16 points per game for Towne’s bas­ket­ball team this past sea­son.

Simply put, he does it all.

“To be hon­est with you, I nev­er thought I’d be good at the sport,” he said of his track ex­ploits. “What I love most about it is the men­tal push it gives you to give it your all every day. I also love the tech­nique that’s re­quired, which is what wins most of the events I do.”

New, who can no longer clear the hurdles him­self, re­called how he taught Smith to run in the 300-meter race.

“I showed him this video of a guy from Cuba who per­forms that event real well. Steve watched it three times, and he had it all down,” Towne’s track coach said. “He’s a sponge. All you have to do is show it to him and he picks it up right away. His nick­name has be­come ‘Ex­tra,’ be­cause he al­ways wants to do more for his team and his school.”

As Smith ad­ded, “When you find something you can work hard to ex­cel at, it makes you feel so good about your­self. It feels great to be the man.”

Most times, when an ath­lete refers to him­self as “the man,” it can be more cringe-worthy than nails on a chalk­board. The same can­not be said for Smith, who re­peatedly punc­tu­ates his sen­tences with “sir” when an­swer­ing ques­tions, and even dished out a hug to a re­port­er who came to talk to him dur­ing league champs at North­east High School.

Listen­ing to Smith speak, it’s clear he sub­scribes to the ad­age of “Those who want re­spect, give re­spect.” He is ap­pre­ci­at­ive of those at the school who have helped mold him in­to the stu­dent-ath­lete he has be­come, and those strong per­son­al­ity traits were enough to earn him ad­mis­sion to con­tin­ue his dec­ath­lete ca­reer at East Strouds­burg Uni­versity next year.

“There’s not a per­son in the build­ing who doesn’t know who he is,” New said. “He sets a great ex­ample and works as hard as he can in everything he does. He’s friends with every­one, he looks out for every­body … he’s one of those kids who every­one likes, from the goof­balls to the ‘cool kids.’ You look at a kid like that, and you wish your own son would turn out that way.”

Smith is quick to de­flect the praise, point­ing to ment­ors at Towne who gave him the right ad­vice when he was still an im­pres­sion­able fresh­man. 

“Our CEO, Mr. (Joseph) Venditti, he’s my role mod­el. He taught me things I nev­er knew be­fore I got here,” Smith said. “He told me ‘Whatever you do in life, work as hard as you can, and you will see the be­ne­fits in the end.’ It sounds so simple, but he’s right.

“For me, it’s the greatest piece of ad­vice I’ve ever re­ceived. The be­ne­fits of school, sports, stu­dent gov­ern­ment … it’s all paid off with hard work. It’s just a great hon­or to be a part of a school where every­body cares so much, and lets the stu­dents be as in­volved as we are.”

Up next for Smith will be this week’s dis­trict cham­pi­on­ships, which he ad­vanced to by qual­i­fy­ing in the top-two in his main events. If he has sim­il­ar suc­cess in dis­tricts against oth­er city com­pet­i­tion (in­clud­ing the Cath­ol­ic League), he would be bound for the state cham­pi­on­ships for the first time. 

Smith, who is al­ways dream­ing big, doesn’t stop there, as he also has his sights set on Na­tion­als, too. 

Bey­ond that?

“I plan to be in the 2016 Olympics,” he said mat­ter-of-factly. “It’s a great goal to strive for; plus, who wouldn’t want to be in the Olympics?”

To get there, the hard work that has come to define him will have to con­tin­ue ten­fold. Smith already trains three times a day (“School, gym, prac­tice, gym” is how he de­scribed his typ­ic­al day lately), and he will con­tin­ue to push him­self to the lim­it at East Strouds­burg.

But, with gradu­ation loom­ing, he also wanted to take a minute and em­phas­ize how much his high school has meant in get­ting him to this point.

“I wasn’t the greatest stu­dent be­fore I got here, but I learned re­spons­ib­il­ity and the true mean­ing of re­spect,” he said. “At Frank­lin Towne, we’re a fam­ily, man. Our heart beats as one. We all root for each oth­er, and we all hurt when one per­son hurts.

“That’s why we call it a fam­ily in­stead of a school. School’s not sup­posed to be fun, so you have to make it fun. That’s what I’ve tried to do. That’s what fun is for me: mak­ing school fun for every­one else.” ••

Sports Ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­

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