Smithson's spirit drive

Senior Antione Smithson hopes the Douglass basketball team boosts morale at the school after a tough end to football season.


It has been nearly a month since Douglass senior Antione Smithson learned the painful news that his football season had ended prematurely. That's 26 days since the Ducks were forced to forfeit their nine wins, their Baltimore City League Division II title and the program's first state playoff berth because of their use of an academically ineligible player.

"While the football season was going on, there was a lot of school spirit," said Smithson, 17, a star defensive back, running back, quarterback, kicker and return specialist. "People talked about the good job we were doing, the band would play every Friday. Everyone looked forward to going to the games.

"Then the forfeits happened, and, just like that, football was taken away from us. And the mood at Douglass went straight down."

With the arrival of basketball season yesterday, Smithson has donned a new uniform, and with it, hopes of leading the 12th-ranked Ducks to a Baltimore City title and their third state crown in five seasons.

Smithson also hopes to help revive the school's morale

"I feel like my teammates will follow my lead, attitude-wise, so I have to keep my cool and do all of the right things," said Smithson, who also plays baseball. "We'll have to play to a certain level because that's the tradition of expectations in basketball at Douglass. If we do that, then the school will rally around us."

Basketball games are a festive event for the students at Douglass, winner of Class 3A state titles in 2002 and 2004 under 10th-year coach Rodney Coffield. Fans pack the school gymnasium, the walls echoing the sounds of a band and a disc jockey perched high on a balcony behind one of the baskets.

The Ducks' success usually leads to a regional title-game meeting against Randallstown. It's a fiercely competitive rivalry from which the classification's eventual state champion often emerges.

Smithson averaged 13 points, six rebounds, four steals and four assists per game for last season's Ducks, who went 19-7 and finished as runners-up to Randallstown in the Class 3A North.

"We've inherited the football mishap, so hopefully, we can turn that into a plus for our athletic program and for our whole school," Coffield said. "I think Antione's carrying a lot of confidence into this season, and I always kid him about carrying the team on his back. I hope his back is strong enough because our kids need something to rally round."

Smithson, 6 feet 1 and 185 pounds, will move to shooting guard this year, leaving point guard to two 5-9 players, junior James Walker and senior Darren Thompson, who are competing for the position. Also returning is 6-4 forward Tyrone Flemming, who averaged nine rebounds, and Williams Martin, a 6-6 senior who will start at center.

"Antione is a mid-major prospect, basketball-wise," Coffield said. "Marshall and Towson have been in contact with me. Depending on what kind of season he has this year, he could be a Division I player."

Although the early end to his football season cost him a chance to be observed by some college scouts in that sport, Douglass football coach Joe Holland said Smithson did enough to drawn interest from schools such as Delaware State, James Madison, Georgetown, West Virginia, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Virgina Tech and Maryland.

One person who is not overly impressed with the hype on Smithson is his aunt, Shelly Livingston, who, with her husband, Antonio, became the legal guardians to Smithson and his siblings, Tamicka, 15, and Anthony, 11, 18 months ago.

A 42-year-old corrections officer with two sons (ages 18 and 28), Livingston, constantly de-emphasizes Smithson's physical attributes, warns him of the pitfalls of a cavalier approach to schoolwork, and has punished him by taking away his telephone privileges.

"I realize that when things are going my way, sometimes I can act like things should be given to me. My aunt wants me to act like I'm not big-headed. She's trying to make sure that's out of my system," said Smithson, whose household chores include cleaning his room and mopping the floors in various rooms of the house on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

"Sometimes, I think she's too tough," Smithson said. "But at the same time, I know where she's coming from because she knows how life can be."

Livingston often uses the stories of prisoners to get her point across.

"I tell him, `These guys out in the streets think they're tough, but when they get in jail, it's a different story,' and, `I'm not raising you to be a thug, and you're not going to be one,' " Livingston said. "I learned a lot of this from my mother. You could misbehave, but you never knew when my mother was going to pop up at your school. I can laugh and joke with Antione, but he knows when I'm serious."

Smithson has a highlight tape he has been asking Livingston to look at since the fall of 2004. "But I have never seen the tape and I won't look at the tape because I don't feel as though his grades are where they should be," she said.

As a result, Smithson said he has taken a closer look at his classroom dedication, "hitting the books" more regularly at home.

"To me, academics is first. I don't care how good of an athlete you are. I will support you, but if there's a problem with your grades, I'll pop up at your school and embarrass you," Livingston said. "What I'm doing to him now, Antione might think I'm the meanest person in the world, but when he gets older, I believe he'll thank me. I love Antione dearly - that's why I stay on him."

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