If I asked you if you know who Tony Smedley is, the predominant answer is “no.” I’ve asked several people of late, and no one I approached has successfully harvested an accurate response from the depths of their memory banks.
“What’s he been in?” one person asked me, assuming he was an actor of some sort.
“Was he the celebrity chef,” another guessed when I used Anthony’s full first name.
Neither was anywhere close to the mark.
Personally, I had read a little about Tony in the past, and was aware of a moment in his life where the light shined brightly on him, if even for a short period.
Tony died a couple weeks ago.
My friend Tom, who lives in the Quad Cities area that borders the Mississippi River in Illinois and Iowa, broke the news in an email I knew was bound to arrive.
For the last few years, Tom would travel to Madison, Wisconsin weekly to meet with other aspiring authors in a writer’s group, and as healthy, retired ex-historians are prone to do, he would go for morning walks while in Madison to ensure his health continued on an upward trajectory.
“On these walks, I would often pass this gentleman sitting on his porch, and we would wave at each other. As time went on, I finally stopped and introduced myself,” Tom told me. “I said I was Tom, and since I walked by here every week, I thought I would introduce myself.”
“Hello, Tom, I’m Tony Smedley,” he told me.
“Anthony Smedley,” Tom asked.
“Yes, you know me?” Tony curiously responded.
It’s important to note that, as a former historian, Tom knows a little about everything, and a lot about some things. His response made that abundantly clear.
“You hit probably the most famous shot in the history of Illinois high school basketball,” Tom noted. “Of course, I know who you are.”
Tony was shocked, Tom relayed to me later. And Tom was further surprised when I mentioned that I knew of Tony also, citing a book reference where Tony is featured on a glossy page.
A youth counselor for most of his life, Tony was a native of Chicago, but later settled in Madison with his wife Arlene, and lived out his days there. As Tom put it, “Tony had been through all that,” alluding to Tony’s career and the things troubled youths encounter growing up in socioeconomic-challenged conditions. The two became friends, and their relationship evolved to the point where Tom would make regular visits to check on Tony, who was suffering from various health ailments for some time.
I had mentioned a desire to travel to Madison to meet Tony. But with Tony’s ongoing health issues, we never found an opportune time.
At one point, I sent the book I referenced earlier with Tom on one of his visits, and Tony was thrilled to see the notoriety he accrued, even for a short time when he was 15 years old.
Later, I sent a newspaper article where Tony was referenced in a flashback to HIS moment.
Then came COVID, and the risks where just too great to allow a visit from the outside to a stranger, even though both wanted the opportunity for a face to face discussion.
The news from Tom came with sadness. “Tony Smedley died last night. Arlene was with him and he passed peacefully. I’m sorry you never got to meet him, but he had so many different health problems during the last two years that it was impossible to plan anything in advance. He really appreciated the book you gave him and the fact that you tipped us off to the article in the newspaper.”
In a story about One Magic Century; The Story of Illinois High School Basketball, author Patrick C. Heston chronicled Tony’s moment, as follows:
“Anthony Smedley, a 5-7 bench player who saw less than 10 seconds of action in the 1963 state championship game, hit what is arguably the most dramatic shot in the annals of the state tournament. Stripping the ball from Centralia’s Herb Williams near the Chicago (Carver) sideline, Smedley leaped into the air and let his hope shot go. Against incredible odds, and with only six seconds left, the shot went in, sinking the highly favored Orphans 53-52.”
As most of us will do, Tony died relatively anonymously. I haven’t found an obituary anywhere, and Tom mentioned Tony didn’t want a service. Despite that, there are some that will remember his story, his moment, even if they weren’t aware of his passing. I’m fortunate to be one of those people, and celebrate him here.
1 The feature image appears in 100 Years of Madness published by the Illinois High School Association in 2006. Caption: Anthony Smedley of Chicago Carver is embraced by a teammate shortly after he scored a final basket to give Carver the 1963 Illinois High School state championship.
2 I’ve used quotes to attribute comments made my my friend Tom. In some cases, it’s possible the sentence is a close paraphrase, but in all cases, the intent is 100% accurate.