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Billy J. Smith- Athlete
Billy J. Smith is quite possibly the most heralded local high school athlete ever to enroll at Ventura College. Prior to becoming a Pirate in 1954, Billy J. attended Ventura High School. It was as a Cougar that his legend began. Billy J's exploits and recognition in football, basketball, and baseball are still remembered fondly by those who participated with or against him. Billy J. earned All Conference and All CIF honors in basketball and football in 1950. In 1951, Billy J. led his high school football team to an undefeated season and a CIF championship.
In 1952, Billy J. was very seriously hurt in an automobile accident, which left him in a coma for days. After sitting out the 1953 season, Billy J. enrolled at Ventura College to resume his athletic career.
Billy J. was a member of the 1954 Pirate football team, playing primarily halfback and slot back, however, he also played end, returned punts and kicked PAT's (point after touchdown). Standing 6'2'' and weighting 200 pounds, Billy J. was an unusual physical specimen during that era. With the kind of size and speed he possessed, it was certain that the sight of Billy J. runnning at a would be tackler might cause some hesitation and the sincere hope that help was on its way. One newspaper account stated, "Billy J. had the speed to run around you and the power to run over you. He could even throw over you."
On a team that was shut out in four of its nine games, Billy J. nonetheless led his team in socring and rushing. Although he was hurt early in the season, he still gained over 600 years and was selected 1st Team All Western State Conference.
Billy J. was expected to play baseball for the Pirates under Coach Paul Gannatal, however, shortly before the 1955 season, Billy J. signed a professional baseball contract with the Chicago Cubs farm system, where he played briefly.
As gifted as Billy J. was as an athlete and as a spotty as was his collegiate and professional athletic careers, his personal life also presented many challenges. Despite the very serious car accident and other potential life altering experiences, Billy J. was able to overcome them all and redirect his enormous gifts into a lifetime of giving. For many years he provided the benefits of this life experiences to young people through the Ventura Boys Club and later, through Teen Challenge. In 1966 he was ordained a minister in the Church of God in Christ where he faithfully served for many years. In 1979, Billy J. was ired by Taft Junior College to help new students, especially those students from places far away and strangers to the rural lifestyle of Taft, California.
Billy J. will be forever remembered as one of the best athletes of his era and his athletic accomplishments have been recorded and acknowledged. However, what make Billy J. uniquely qualified for the Hall of Fame status was not only his athletic gift, but his ability to overcome adversity and devote his adult life to a career of serving others. His compassion and commitment in the support of thousands of young men and women is to be commmended.
Billy J. Smith is now retired and resides in Taft, California.