A Champion is Forever
A Champion is Forever

Rhonda Schaffer-Smith


By Art Holden

Very few athletes can ever boast of winning a national championship, let alone two. But, Rhonda Schaffer-Smith can.

The 1982 Wooster High graduate accomplished the feat during her college basketball playing days at Connors State College in Warner, Okla., where the Cowgirls won the Junior College National Championship, and then at Southwestern Oklahoma State (Weatherford, Okla.), where the 5-foot-11 do-it-all player led the Lady Bulldogs to the NAIA National title, finishing with a 30-2 record.

It wasn’t all roses en route to the titles and the many conference and national accolades that came with it, though.

Smith starred at Wooster High School in the infancy of girls basketball under coach Jim Byrd and assistant Tom Dinger as a four-year letterwinner. She was a first-team All-Ohioan as a senior, finishing her WHS career with then a school-record 1,357 points.

Smith was also named All-Ohio her junior season at Wooster, and her senior season was the Cardinal Conference Player of the Year, played in the McDonald’s All-Star Classic as well as the Ashland North-South All-Star game.

Her skills drew the attention of Debbie Yow, sister of legendary women’s college coach Kay Yow, who won over 700 games at North Carolina State University. Debbie Yow was the head coach at Oral Roberts University, and Smith signed a scholarship to play for the Eagles.

After a semester in Tulsa, though, Smith transferred to Connors State Junior College where she found her footing, twice leading the Cowgirls to the National Tournament, including winning it all her sophomore season when she averaged 24.7 points and 12.5 rebounds a game. Connors State finished that year with a 32-4 record, beating top-seeded Odessa Junior College in the title game.

She was a two-time Junior College All-American, including the Player of the Year her sophomore season. She is the only woman in Connors State women’s basketball history to have her number retired. She is in the Cowgirls Hall of Fame as both a member of the 1985 National Championship team, and individually for her historic career.

Following her Junior College success, Smith followed Yow’s move to the University of Florida, but once again Smith left after a semester and landed at Southwestern Oklahoma State.

And once again, she and her team prospered. Her second season with the Lady Bulldogs, she scored at a 16.7 clip and averaged 7 rebounds a game. She was named a Kodak All-American as well as the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Conference Player of the Year.

After graduation, Schaffer-Smith began a career in social work, did some coaching, continued to play basketball recreationally, and even played competitive women’s slowpitch softball, once helping her team qualify for the World Series in Las Vegas.

“I learned to love the game in Wooster and that I had a talent,” Schaffer-Smith said. “I’m just grateful that I had the opportunity to display my God-given ability. I’ve met so many amazing people and played with so many great players from high school to college. I am truly grateful.”

Schaffer-Smith currently works as a peer recovery specialist for Begin Anew Recovery in Minnesota. She is married to Sally Smith-Schaffer, and they live in Minneapolis.