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March 6, 2024

Jack Smith, AHS Class of ’36

In a historic triumph, Ames High secured its inaugural state championship title in 1936, marking a significant milestone in the school’s athletic legacy.

This victory not only etched a momentous achievement in the annals of Ames High’s sports history but also celebrated the groundbreaking accomplishment of Jacques “Jack” Bonheur Smith, the senior class president and a reserve center on the basketball team, who became the first athlete of color to clinch a state championship for the Little Cyclones.

Smith and his Little Cyclone teammates played four games in three days while on the championship trail: a 37-24 victory over Wellsburg on March 26 (tip time scheduled at 4:20 p.m.), a 37-26 victory against Creston at 7:30 p.m. on March 27, a 45-23 win against Ottumwa on March 28, tip scheduled at 2:40 p.m. and the championship game against Mason City, the Little Cyclones (25-1) won 26-12 and the game was scheduled to tip off at 8:40 p.m.

In the respective games, Smith tallied three against the Warriors, six against the Panthers, five against the Bulldogs, and one point in the championship game.

6,500 fans watched the orange and black quintet hoist the first-ever championship in school history, but an anecdote from the play-by-play shares the following exciting narrative after Ames’ early 2-0 lead: “The game was interrupted when one of the automatic scoreboard horns shorted, adding to the din.”

In addition to earning two letters in basketball, Smith earned a football letter and three letters in track. Smith was also a first-team all-Central Iowa Conference left tackle for the 1935 Little Cyclones.

Smith was more than an athlete at Ames High, as he was a vice president of the student council in the second semester of his junior year. In addition to being part of the Hi-Y Club (YMCA) and the A Club (also known as Varsity Club, to promote athletics), Smith was senior class president during his final semester.

Smith and his 151 peers graduated from Ames High on May 29, 1936. Following commencement, Smith took his academic and athletic accomplishments to the Tuskegee Institute. A March 4, 1937, issue of Milepost (Ames) shares that Jack, as a true freshman, is playing varsity basketball with his Golden Tiger teammates.

According to the 1940 Census, enumerated by an Alabama enumerator between April 4-8, 1940, Smith had three years of college and was a public school teacher in Cross Keys.

Following the signing of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 16, 1940, Smith, now an employee of International Harvester, registered on October 16, 1940. On February 24, 1942, Smith (listed at 6’1″, 214 pounds) enlisted in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Besides promotion from private to first lieutenant, not much is known about Smith’s military career.

According to the Ames Daily Tribune on March 15, 1961: “Smith (Atlanta) was in Ames recently and is not likely to return so soon, (head coach Ray) Donels said.” On August 27, 1970, the paper shared that Jack visited his mother, Rena (1892-1972). For the 36th reunion in 1972, Smith did not attend, either. 

Smith died on August 25, 1976, in Atlanta at 59. Unfortunately, information following the war is not as known about Smith apart from spending part of his career in the real estate industry.