Justice Smith: from athlete to athletic director

Athletic Director Justice Smith watches the Warriors during practice. (Credit: Evan Barber/WSPN)

Before 1989, the town of Amsterdam, New York was an ordinary town. Never big in size, economics, or population, Amsterdam was centered around high school football.

That year brought a freshman by the name of Justice Smith to the high school, only fourteen at the time. No one knew just how influential this freshman would turn out to be.

Growing up, Smith had a hard family life. “My real father was always being incarcerated, put in jail,” said Smith. “I grew up with my mom and my step-dad.”

Smith says his mother and step-father’s backgrounds were key to his upbringing. “My mom was a tough mom. She kind of played both the mother and father for a while,” he said. “My step-dad came into my life when I was around five.”

Smith is black and Puerto Rican, while his step dad was of Polish-Italian descent. Being exposed to such different cultures had a lasting effect on Smith.

“Having him as a step-father really helped me see the world in many different perspectives,” said Smith. “I almost always could relate to someone in some way due to my complex background.”

Amsterdam, New York, like many small towns, spent Friday nights in the fall watching its boys play football. Smith lived football. During his senior year at Amsterdam High School, Smith led his team to an 11-0 record and won the regional championship. He was also named New York State Football Player of the Year.

Coming out of high school, Smith had many offers from Division I colleges across the country.

“I chose Boston College because it had an 100% athlete graduation rate. And one of my friends who I competed against in Albany, New York, Chuckie Dukes, was the running back at BC when I was being recruited by them,” said Smith. “We used to run track against each other back in high school, so it was seeing a familiar face, and he kind of showed me the ropes over there so that helped out as well.”

When Smith entered college, his roommate was Brian Cromwell, a Wayland High School football standout and a good friend of current Wayland football coach Scott Parseghian.

“I visited Brian about twice a year,” said Parseghian. “I got to know Justice more and more each visit.”

At Boston College, Smith was a stand-out running back, picking up where he left off in high school. Smith played on some of Boston College’s best teams and spent his short-lived senior season along side NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck of the Seattle Seahawks.

However, that year, tragedy struck Smith: a season ending injury.

“I injured my knee against Michigan in a Thursday night game on ESPN,” said Smith. “I had the choice of throwing away the whole season, and coming back the next year, or playing the next week against Notre Dame.”

After a loss to Notre Dame, Smith blew his knee out in a practice and would never return to the Eagles’ field.

Smith graduated from Boston College with a high level of uncertainty as to what he was going to do with his life. He contacted an agent, and decided to give football another try.

Although skeptical, Smith moved to Finland to play a year of football. He had enormous success. His team finished third and received a bronze medal, while Smith led the league in rushing yards. But his success was short-lived, as his knee finally gave way.

“Today there is surgery for this,” said Smith pointing to his knee. “Back then, there was nothing for it.”

Smith returned to the U.S. in 2002 and settled in Arizona, where he found an athletic director position at Crittendon Youth Academy. Crittendon is a correctional school, aimed at getting juvenile delinquents back into classes and keeping them out of trouble.

“When I arrived there was no athletic program,” said Smith. “So, we started with a co-ed volleyball team.”

The volleyball team traveled to different schools and played only friendly matches.

“Finally we found the Charter Athletic Association, which is similar to the MIAA, and we made girls volleyball, boys basketball, and girls softball teams,” said Smith. “I was the Coach of all three [sports], because no one else wanted a coaching job at that school at the particular time.”

Smith went on to create a girls basketball team and a boys soccer team as well. In his third year at Crittendon, his volleyball team went 17-0 and won the state championship.

“It was nuts,” said Smith. “I was so proud of the kids.”

While on top, Smith decided to leave Arizona and try something new with his life. He knew that he wanted to move back east, and in the summer of 2009, Parseghian called Smith to let him know that a wellness teacher position at Wayland Middle School had opened up. After Smith got the job, Parseghian also asked him to join him on the sidelines as a coach of the Wayland football team.

Because of last year’s budget cuts, the job of Athletic Director was reduced to a part-time position and former Athletic Director Martha Jamieson resigned. With the spot open, Smith put in an application and was appointed the new Athletic Director last June.

Smith wants to take Wayland High School athletics to the next level. He wants to get state championships under his belt, and he wants people to know the tradition of excellence in Wayland.

“So when you talk about Wayland, it’s ‘Oh yeah, they got a great football team, they have a great cross-country team, they have a great swim team,’ says Smith. ” That’s where I want this program to be.”

9 Comments

  • This is fantastic!!

  • avatar Tommy Bernotas

    Go Mr. Smith!

  • avatar Shawn Fennelly

    Justice is a great supporter of youth programs. He even makes a point to make it to Wayland-Weston Pop Warner away games.

  • avatar LSWARRIOR

    I never met Justice, but he had a common friend with my sister in Arizona. When she moved, he helped with all the packing and refused pay. In a strange twist of fate, Justice was a good college friend and teammate of my roomate Greg at the time. Both my sister and good friend had nothing but praise for Justice. Funny, that he is now at Wayland…a rival team of mine in high school. Good Luck JS.

  • Great to see someone for Amsterdam NY making a difference.

  • avatar pete keller

    I played football with justice in the lil giants football leauge for the undeafeated blue falcons. Very impressed by what has he done.

  • Great story about a great former BC player. Will never forget the 2 TD's and almost 150 yards rushing that Justice had against ND in 1994 in BC's 30-11 rout of the Irish. Best wishes for continued success at Wayland High!

  • avatar Michelle M. VanDetta

    Hi Justice, this is Michelle VanDetta. Not sure if you remember me from Amsterdam HS. All I know is I sure to remember how great football games were when I was in school. I will never forget all of the signs at homecoming that stated "BO DON'T KNOW JUSTICE." I always tell my son Esiah about you and looked you up along with some of the other hometown boys that went somewhere with their hard work and determination. After you my younger brother Vinnie VanDetta played as a I think a receiver all through high school and went to the Carrier Dome and won the state championship when he was I think a senior an scored 2 touchdowns in the Championship game. I am happy that you are doing wonderful things with your god given talent.

Leave a Reply