The Athens native attended Clarke Central High School before attending Paine College in Augusta, Ga. After receiving his bachelor’s degree (and meeting his wife Lee), Smith returned to Athens and attained a master’s degree in journalism at the Grady College at the University of Georgia. He would later start the defunct Athens Voice newspaper, work nearly two decades for the Georgia Department of Labor and serve as the president of the local chapter of the NAACP.
Smith’s latest project, the Athens Area Black History Bowl, is just one more example of the legacy he is leaving behind.
“Fred has always been an advocate when it comes to young people,” Clarke County Sheriff Ira Edwards said. “He is invested in our youth. He was basically the brainchild, he and his wife Lee, when it comes to the Black History Bowl. As a result of that it has just mushroomed into something very impactful.”
The Black History Bowl has proven to be a positive influence in the community, specifically for the younger generation, who Smith believes may not be properly learning its heritage.
“One of the things that we believe is that today’s youth doesn’t have a sense of connection to the past,” Smith said. “I think the cause of that often times is that they don’t think deeply. They are kind of caught in today’s news. They don’t understand the struggle and sacrifice that was overcome. Our legacy is one of overcoming.”
In the second year of the Black History Bowl, Smith saw improvements across the board, specifically in the quiz bowl itself. “Destined” took home the first place prize (including a trophy and $700) and the “Sheriff Ira Explorers” finished second (earning a trophy and $300).
“It was more competitive in terms of the teams having to prepare. Last year we had a couple of the teams that were way above the others, but this year it was more level,” Smith said. “I’m so glad that those couple of teams last year that were way above the crowd kind of shocked everybody. It made the other teams realize that if they were going to play this game, they would have to up their game.”
Support from the community also rose in the second year of the quiz bowl.
”The community support increased this year too, in terms of contributions that we use to give out the prize money and do the leaflets and posters,” Smith said. “The biggest difference was that teams were more prepared and the community support has grown.”
Sheriff Edwards is a supporter of events like the Black History Bowl, which he believes indirectly helps him to do his job. He has coached a team in the competition both years.
“I look at it like this: if we don’t know our history, we’re going to repeat our past,” Edwards said. “As sheriff of Clarke County, I see it every day where we have an overcrowded jail population. My philosophy is burning the candle from both ends, prevention and rehabilitation. The kids are very excited about it, and on my end it prevents our jail population from increasing.”
Smith has plans for the event to continue for years to come. While next year’s date has yet to be announced, parents and committee members have already begun planning for future AABH Bowls.
“This is an awesome event, and it is because of a dream that Fred Smith and his wife Lee Smith came up with,” said committee member and announcer Barbara Sims. “The impact that it has had will continue to be a legacy of Athens-Clarke County.”