Smith closes out storied softball coaching career

Mikaela Koski
Thursday, June 27, 2019
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SCN photo by Mikaela Koski
            Former Columbus coach John Smith

Last month, Stillwater Renegades softball coach John Smith got a surprise.

After Smith presented his senior night remarks for the five athletes who were about to play in what would be their final home game, Columbus resident Clinton Stadel took the microphone and reminded the crowd that the game would in fact be Smith’s last home game, too.

Stadel, a former football player under Smith and father to a current Stillwater Renegade, thanked Smith for all of his work and dedication to coaching throughout the years. A star quilt was then draped around Smith’s shoulders, a Native American symbol of honor and generosity, Stadel explained.

Following the short ceremony, the Renegades took the field and Smith took his position at the head of the dugout to oversee his final game as a head coach in Columbus following an almost 30-year career.

The game went as planned – Still-water run-ruled the Colstrip Fillies 18-8.


Smith has been a familiar face around Columbus athletics for decades, both as a coach and as athletic director.

He spent 24 years as head football coach, building a successful program that earned one state championship, two second place finishes, and numerous runs into the postseason. Several of Smith’s players went on to play football at the collegiate level, and one even advanced to play in the NFL.

It was with his teams on the softball diamond where Smith found his greatest success, though.


In a SCN article published in March 2001 about the upcoming inaugural season of the brand new Columbus-Absarokee co-op softball team, Smith embraced the challenge that comes with creating a sports program from the ground up.

Looking forward to that first season, he said, “It’s going to be fun.”

Little did he know that six years later, the Stillwater Renegades would be crowned state champions, kicking off a five-season stretch of Class B-C softball domination.

Stillwater won the state championship three years in a row – 2007, 2008, and 2009. The following year the Renegades took second at state behind Thompson Falls. In 2011, Stillwater was back to its winning ways, run-ruling Missoula Loyola for the state championship in downpour rain. The Renegades also brought home hardware in 2013 – a third place trophy.

Next season, for the first time in its 20-season history, the Stillwater Renegades will have a new head coach.

“It’s tough to walk away, but I believe it’s time to bring new, more energetic leadership to the Renegades,” Smith said.

“Looking back to where we started and where we are now is somewhat fulfilling,” he explained. “We are respected throughout the state in B-C and A softball as a viable opponent. We walked the valleys and have seen the view from the top.”

Smith has worked with various assistants during his time as head coach. He noted, “My assistant coaches through the years had a lot to do with hardware collection – Laura Bakich, Merridy Royce, Jill Branstetter-Claypool, Randy Crawford, Shae Bass, Rochelle Gravance, and Justine Taylor.”

For Renegade softball players and fans, one name in particular stands out from the list. It has been Randy Crawford who has been the longtime assistant coach, taking third base duties when Still-water is up to bat across from Smith at first base for many years.

“Randy is the yin to my yang!” Smith mentioned. “I believe without his energy this program would have never enjoyed the success we shared. He is a good man and better friend.”

Smith also praised the level of parent support and community pride the team received throughout the years. He noted Al Sipes was always supportive of the softball team as superintendent in Columbus and made the creation of a new Renegade softball field a reality, a field Smith says is one of the nicest in the division.

For Smith, the most important aspect of his coaching career has been the athletes. He explained the Stillwater Renegades team has been very fortunate to have had a great number of talented players throughout the years.

“Winning is important, but second to the lessons learned playing the game – relationships and memories last forever,” Smith said. “The beginning was fun, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.”

“Winning is important, but second to the lessons learned playing the game – relationships and memories last forever.”
-John Smith