Lyle Thomas “Tom” Smith, a husband, father, teacher and coach, passed away at the age of 98 on Oct. 31, 2021. Tom was born in Burns, Oregon and spent his youth in Selah, Washington, where he lettered (all four years) in basketball and baseball at Selah High School. In 1941, he attended Eastern Washington College where he earned letters in both basketball and football his freshman year. As there was no baseball at Eastern, Tom played for a semi-pro team and was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies. He spent a year playing in the Phillies system in Bradford, Pennsylvania. Tom returned to Eastern for two years and while playing American Legion basketball, Tom was signed to a professional basketball contract. He spent two years playing for the Bellingham Firecrests and the Portland Indians. During this time, he married Peggy Crane on Dec. 26, 1946. Ever the showman, the owner of the Portland franchise suggested Tom and Peggy wed at halftime of one of their professional games. Peggy nixed the idea and they were married in a small, but elegant ceremony in Spokane, Washington. Peggy did agree to a “honeymoon“ with the team on their return trip to Portland. Tom returned to Eastern where he earned a bachelor's degree in industrial arts and math. He coached basketball, baseball and football at Waitsburg High School, before accepting a job with W.F. West High School in 1951, where he taught math and coached basketball, baseball and assisted in football.The highlight of Tom’s coaching career was when the Bearcats won the Washington State Basketball Championship in 1960. He was inducted into the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1991 and the W.F. West Bearcat Hall of Fame in 2016.
Tom Smith touched the lives of countless students during his tenure at W.F. West. Many of his former students credit him with mentoring them and helping them to succeed in life. Former students and student athletes often came to the family home to thank him for the role he played in influencing their lives. After teaching for 31 years, 20 of them as a coach, Tom retired in 1980. He and Peggy started a second career as Christmas tree farmers. During the off season, they began traveling all over the world, sharing a special affinity for the people and beauty of Mexico. Tom Smith is survived by his five children Robyn, Greg, Carole, Jake and Tim, and his grandchildren Nick and Walker. A public celebration of Tom’s life will be held in Chehalis in early 2022.