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Photo of Ernie Smith with CMS track and field (accompanied by the words Ernie Smith 1933-2021)

CMS Athletics Mourns Passing of Hall of Famer Ernie Smith (CMC '56)

CLAREMONT, Calif. - The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps athletic department lost one of its groundbreaking legends on Jan. 13, as Hall of Famer Ernie Smith (CMC '56) passed away at the age of 87, leaving behind an impressive legacy both locally at CMS and nationally in the sport of track and field. 

Smith was a three-year track and field letter-winner and a two-year football letter-winner while attending Claremont Men's College.  He was the first great all-around thrower for CMC, reaching distances of 52-4.5 in the shot put, 146-8 in the discus throw and 206-10 in the javelin throw and holding the school records in all three events when his career concluded. Remarkably, he still ranks fifth in both the shot put and the javelin in CMS history, 65 years after his graduation.

Smith was also a national qualifier in the javelin (1955 and 1956) and shot put (1956), and competed in the shot put in the 1956 Olympic Trials, after serving as the team captain of the Pomona-Claremont Track and Field team. He also was an early member of the Southern California Striders, a track and field club established in 1955 which went on to produce numerous national and Olympic Champions.

As a football player, Smith was a two-way player competing on both the offensive and defensive lines, and helped his teams to multiple SCIAC Championships.  He was also a member of the first undefeated Pomona-Claremont team in 1955.

After competing at the Olympic trials at L.A. Coliseum, Smith next stepped back into the track and field arena in a different capacity. He helped organize and run the Arcadia Invitational from its inception in 1965 until 2000, and also officiated California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) boys and girls preliminary, finals, masters, and state meets.

The urge to compete never left him, so at 71 years old and nearly five decades after the Olympic Trials, he began competing again, at the Masters track and field throw events. Smith trained on campus with fellow Masters competitor and then-CMS track and field and cross country coach John Goldhammer, and competed for 12 years at the Masters level, winning bronze medals in a national and international meet, before finally retiring from competition in his 80s.

In addition to continuing his athletic pursuits, Smith also remained closely involved with CMS athletics throughout his life. After earning induction into the CMS Hall of Fame in 1994, Smith remained involved on the selection committee for many years.

"Ernie was 'Mr. CMS' in all sports, following them and keeping me apprised of their successes," said close friend and former football teammate John Devereux (CMC '57). "He was always upbeat, and my companion at our homecoming football games and in life...and so much more."

The Smith family was major donors during the early days of CMC, including the school's first tennis courts. Ernie continued the tradition of giving generously to CMC, including joining his classmate Gary Biszantz to financially support the gift of the new state-of-the-art Biszantz Family Tennis Complex. His donations also helped support the expanded CMS sports program over the years, including the Fritz B. Burns Track Complex, the weight room in Ducey Gymnasium, the track and field coach's office, and the athletic department scoreboards.

"Ernie was a great teammate and a key to rallying our Pomona-Claremont football alumni," said Mike Sutton (CMC '76), director of advancement for athletics. "I am so grateful to have had the chance to know and work with him throughout my career. Ernie gave of his time, talent, and treasure.  From facilities to programming, his generosity and support made a meaningful impact on CMS Athletics through his deep concern for our student-athletes in all sports. I'm really going to miss his friendship and bigger than life personality." 

When not involved with track and field, Smith worked his entire adult life for the construction company founded in 1928 by his father, Ben F. Smith, Inc., which has grown to over 300 employees and has locations in Los Angeles and San Diego.

"Ernie was a special friend to all of us, intense in his studies, athletics, and work," said Devereux.  "He and I were best of friends for all these years, doing many things together, including attending football games, supporting him at some of his more recent track meet events, and having memorable times together visiting my home State of Hawaii. We will all fondly remember and miss our friend Big Ernie!"

Smith is survived by his four adult children, Carolyn, Debby, Ron, and Barbara.