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Fri, Jul 25, 2014

A walking, talking encyclopedia

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It's hard to find anyone who's matched his contributions to sports in Rutherford County.

He's seen many things throughout the years and can talk about anything that's happened in the sports world during the last 50-plus years.

He's not an athlete, and he's not a head coach. No, he's not a member of the media.

He's retired postal worker and Murfreesboro native Nelson Smotherman, and for the last 57 years the 73-year-old has been keeping statistics for high school and college sporting events in the area.

"Nelson is a very unique person in that he is totally (involved) in the history of sports in this area — particularly Murfreesboro," said Dick Palmer, the former voice of Blue Raider football who works radio for MTSU men's basketball games and has known Smotherman for years. "He's very precise with his recollection of things."

Where it started

Smotherman's passion for keeping stats started when he was a high school student at Central. His father took him to WGNS where he met former WGNS owner Cecil Elrod and radioman Ray Duffy.

Dad told the radio guys that his son would like a ride to the football game, and from that point on Smotherman was part of the sports world.

Next season, 1950, the radio crew needed someone to do football stats, and Smotherman became the statistician.

"At the time no one was doing them," Smotherman remembered. "Back then they didn't have the field marked like they do now. If the ball was on the 45 (-yard line) I would hold up two hands."

With one hand Smotherman holds up four fingers, and with the other he holds up five fingers.

He kept stats during high school. A stint in the Army from 1955-58 limited the amount of games he covered, but he couldn't completely escape.

"I did at least one game a year while I was in the service," he said.

In 1957 he did seven games.

Becoming a statistician

Smotherman remained a high school fan, but he eventually started keeping stats for MTSU.

In 1961-1981 he was the statistician for broadcaster Monte Hale Sr. at MTSU basketball games. He enjoyed his years working with Hale and calls him a "big-time broadcaster" with a serious look on his face.

It was during those 20 years that he achieved one of the highlights of his statistician career.

The NCAA Tournament came to Murphy Center in 1979, and the television crew of Dick Enberg and Al Maguire needed a statistician. Smotherman got a call and was asked if he could help.

"I told them I would do it," Smotherman said. "I said, 'You didn't have to ask.'"

Smotherman recalls a player named Earvin "Magic" Johnson who played for eventual national champion Michigan State. Johnson, of course, became a great player for the Los Angeles Lakers and was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history.

Notre Dame, which was then coached by ESPN college basketball analyst Richard "Digger" Phelps, also played at Murphy Center. Smotherman, a Notre Dame fan, remembers watching the Fighting Irish play.

"I have the program (Enberg and Maguire) autographed," Smotherman said.

TSSAA historian

Smotherman developed a reputation as a person who knew everything about local sports, and the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association decided it wanted his help.

In 1989 Smotherman got a call from the TSSAA and was asked if he would be interested in helping it with records.

Smotherman said yes and became a historian for TSSAA.

"He's taken a lot of records, all the stats and has taken personal pride in capturing history," said Ronnie Carter, executive director of TSSAA. "Nelson is a unique individual."

He follows just about every sport for TSSAA and can spout off anything from bowling to football.

"He means a lot," said Matthew Gillespie, assistant to the executive director for TSSAA. "So many records we wouldn't have without him. He's been a great asset to us."

For his efforts TSSAA inducted him into its Hall of Fame as a contributor in 1997.

"It was quite an honor," Smotherman said.

Becoming a patriot

He found out Oakland had fast-pitch softball and decided to watch some games. He started operating the scoreboard for the Lady Patriot softball team, but it was car trouble that got him more involved with the program.

Jimmy Estes, an auto mechanic teacher at Oakland and former softball coach, was Smotherman's mechanic. Smotherman needed some work done on his car and stopped by the Oakland softball field to talk to Estes.

"I went out there to ask him about my car, and the next thing you know I'm hitting the ball," said Smotherman, who played softball until he was 68. "I was out there five minutes, and then I'm hitting."

Estes also remembers that day.

"I put him to work," Estes said with a laugh.

Smotherman has done what's needed. If Oakland needs work done on the field, he does it. If players need advice, he gives it to them. If Oakland needs a statistician, he's the man. He'll do whatever it takes to help Oakland softball — even if it means driving because he missed the bus.

Estes recalls a day when Oakland played at Warren County. The former coach had a rule: If you weren't on the bus when it was time to go the bus left anyway.

Smotherman and Oakland's starting center fielder weren't on the bus when it was time to leave for McMinnville, so the bus left.

"I left Nelson and the center fielder," Estes fondly remembers. "He brought the player with him (to Warren County). He never said a thing about missing the bus again. He's a pistol."

Oakland greatly appreciates Smotherman's contributions so much that it named its field the Nelson Smotherman Field in 2001.

"It caught me by surprise," Smotherman said of the field being named after him. "I wasn't expecting it."

They call him 'Moose'

Smotherman got the nickname "Moose" when he was 13 years old. He remembers being near his house and hanging out with friends Ralph Harris and Charles Hunter.

While goofing off Harris started calling Smotherman "Moose" and Hunter "Mouse."

The name remains with him to this day.

"Moose" has been keeping stats for most of his life and is still going strong. He'll be remembered as a great statistician for local sports.

"He's simply a legend," said Jeff Jordan, host of "Inside Sports" on WGNS and a former educator in Rutherford County. "He's been around 40, 50 years."

And he won't be forgotten.

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Broadcasting, Football, Journalism, Math, Media History, Nelson Smotherman, Sports, Statistics, TSSAA
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