Event at West Rowan High honors Chris Smith’s legacy through kindness, togetherness

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, June 18, 2024

MOUNT ULLA — Former West Rowan High School and NFL defensive end Chris Smith’s life was the focus of an event at West Rowan High School on Saturday that aimed to honor his memory and keep his legacy alive. Smith died in April of 2023.

The event was organized by Raya Clay and Brittany Bogues, who reached out to Smith’s family with the idea to hold a flag football game at Smith’s old high school and invite family, friends and the community together to celebrate him.

“Words just can’t express. Like I’ve said, I just didn’t realize that he impacted so many people. To have people reach out to honor his legacy and hearing so much about Chris as a person and not just a player, it means so much to me, my husband and our family,” said Sherry Smith, Smith’s mother.

As part of the event, West Rowan High School unveiled a mural honoring Smith outside of the school’s weight room, designed by West Rowan student Nick Smith, and a bench inside of the football stadium. Both include a quote from Smith, “match my energy.”

“When I got drafted, Chris was one of the first people to call me and just give me advice, bring me in, tell me how the league was going to be, the right things to eat,” said San Francisco 49ers player and North Rowan graduate Javon Hargrave, who was a close friend of Smith. “Seeing him, when he first got paid, give back to West Rowan, to his church and to the whole Salisbury community, he just taught me everything I know going through this journey. I’m just so happy to be here for him, to see him get his flowers, because he deserved this and so much more.” 

In 2018, Smith donated over $40,000 to schools throughout the Rowan County community. The largest portion of that funding, $10,000, went to his alma mater West Rowan, but he also donated $5,000 each to the other high school athletic departments in the county and $5,000 to the recently-founded Essie Mae Kiser Foxx charter school in East Spencer.

“I wanted to do something for all the schools in this area, not just West Rowan. Even though we compete against each other, we’re still part of the same family. We’re all from Salisbury. That’s what we tell people. I had great relationships with coaches and players all around Rowan County. I always stop myself and think about what they’ve done for me. So no matter what school you go to or what sport you play, I just wanted to take care of my hometown,” Smith said in a Salisbury Post article about the donations.

Now, the kindness that Smith showed is being continued, as Clay announced on Saturday that West Rowan student-athlete Emma Clarke will be receiving the first Chris Smith memorial scholarship. Proceeds from the event went into the scholarship as well as an educational fund for Smith’s children.

“He meant a lot to a lot of people and so we wanted to do something that would honor him. We reached out to his best friends and said, ‘what would you like to do?’ And they said something that involved the community and something that brought a little shine to him because he brought so much shine to everybody else,” said Bogues.

After dedicating the mural and bench, a flag football game was held on the West Rowan football field, with current high school players and Smith’s friends participating.

“A lot of the things he did in the community, giving back and just being him, to me it says a lot about his character. It still lives on today, just look at everybody out here who all came, all his friends, all his boys, a lot of his coaches, his parents, his aunties, everybody I see out here today. I know he’ll be smiling ear to ear right now and talking about, ‘man, all this for me?’ This is just something amazing,” said former West Rowan teammate and close friend K.P. Parks.

During the halftime of the football game, a jersey and a football that were both signed from Hargrave were raffled off. Clay followed the raffle by giving family and friends the opportunity to speak about Smith. She also asked everyone at the event to learn from Smith and celebrate his life by caring for everyone around them every day, not just on Saturday.

“Chris gave so much and it’s still coming back to him. He helped so many people and now people are helping him, even in his past people were still looking out for him. Anytime anybody does anything for his children it’s just wonderful to know that people are reaching out to them also,” said Sherry Smith.