First Person: Garrison Smith

Not sure how or why we missed this awesome story about and from Douglass High star defensive tackle Garrison Smith, who’s one of the top-rated prep defensive linemen in the nation and committed recently to attend and play for the University of Georgia. Neverthess, as a part of the newspaper’s “First Person” series, Smith relates on the relationship he developed with an elderly neighbor, and their mutual love of checkers. Instead of placing the whole story in block quotes (we hate all that italics), read the story in full, with no eye squinting, after the jump …

First Person: Garrison Smith

A bond is nurtured at the checkerboard

By Michael Carvell

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Douglass High School’s Garrison Smith, ranked as the nation’s No. 2 prospect at defensive tackle, doesn’t like to lose.

So Smith laughs when he talks about his winless streak in checkers against his elderly neighbor, Jon Brown.

Brown, 83, has become like “second family” for Smith, who spends several days a week across the street. It provides an escape of sorts from a big decision Smith is facing —- he has more than 50 scholarship offers.

I’ve been going over to Mr. Brown’s since we moved to the neighborhood. He and his wife are real nice. They are the type of people that when you meet them you instantly feel their loving spirit.

My brothers and I always used to play checkers against each other, and one day Mr. Brown saw us playing and said that maybe he could teach me a couple of things. Not knowing how good he was, I went over there expecting a few easy wins. But he turned out to be the greatest checkers player of all time. It has been 13 years, and my brothers and I have never beat him once.

He is just a master at checkers. He studies his craft and works at it. You can’t beat the master, I guess. I can beat everybody else, but I can’t beat him.

Anytime I have free time, I like to go over there. They welcome me like they would their own child, always asking if I want something to drink or eat. Mr. Brown always wants to have fun and compete.

We sit in his den and will play checkers for hours. When I finally get tired of getting beat, I break out the cards and play this game called Tonk. I can beat him every now and then in cards. One time I got out to a 10-0 lead and was teasing him about it. Then the next time we played he won 11 straight. He has just got the luck of the games. He wins everything.

After we play board games and drink sodas, sometimes we’ll watch football games for a few hours. Mr. Brown loves sports, and he tells me all kinds of stories about how things were when he was growing up in Atlanta. He played football at Morris Brown, and they didn’t have all the fancy equipment we do these days. I’m not sure he even played with a helmet. He said he played when spearing was legal.

He said back in the day, it was survival of the fittest, and it wasn’t easy putting food on the table.

He said black people didn’t have all the same opportunities that we do today, and that I should feel blessings from God with my situation. He encourages me to be the best I can be in everything.

As told to Michael Carvell

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