By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
When you ask around Tucumcari about what their first thoughts are of Norman “Smitty” Smith you would not be surprised to hear them answer first, “haircut” or “straight razor shave.”
Smith has become a staple of Tucumcari’s nostalgic lore. He operated his barbershop on the corner of South First Street and Main Street for several decades.
In fact, Smitty, was the first barber to cut the hair of many residents of Tucumcari and Quay County.
Smith, however, is being honored for something other than his barbering. He is being presented a good sportsmanship award Saturday during the 2A state basketball championship.
Smith is receiving this honor to recognize a second calling, one that gave him no pay, had him putting in countless hours of standing on sometimes frozen ground and braving the elements as he operated and headed the Tucumcari Rattlers football’s “chain gang.”
The gang is the group of individuals who carry yardsticks connected by a 10-yard chain on the sidelines to mark the distance that makes or breaks a first down.
“I didn’t have football where I grew up, but I’ve always enjoyed the game,” Smith said.
At a Thursday night ceremony to honor him at Tucumcari’s Elks Lodge, Smith was asked why he did it for so long. He replied, “I did it because I love football and I always had the best seat in the house.”
Smith was in the military, stationed in Clovis when he met his wife Mable, a longtime resident of Tucumcari. They married, raised a family and made Tucumcari their home.
It was by pure chance Smith said he was called upon to do a job he would continue for 54 years.
Smith said coach W.A. Wise pulled him off the street and asked him to “run the sticks” for the 1959 Class A state championship game against Aztec.
“I was told anyone can do the job and thought, ‘how hard could it be,’” Smith said. “I found out first hand that it can be a dangerous job.”
Smith said as he was operating the sticks he was hit by players during a play, losing his footing and his glasses, which flew off to an unknown location.
“I guess I could have moved out of the way,” Smith said. “It was my military training that told me to hold my ground.”
He got his glasses back the next day. Someone found them next to the field.
The Rattlers won that game and the championship 13-7.
Smith said despite the rough-and-tumble start, he enjoyed the time he spent out on the field. The next season he found himself back on the sticks.
In his time on the field, he said, he got to see many great accomplishments and accumulated many fond memories.
“My favorite memory of them all is being on the sidelines when Tucumcari beat Santa Rosa for the 2A state championship,” Smith said.
Smith said he could recall the crowd’s roar as the buzzer sounded and the Rattlers were champions. He said the stands were packed, “and I’m sure you could hear the roar clear across town.”
Smith said he would still be out on that field today, but a few years ago, a health condition forced him to hang up his vest and pass the duties on to another.
His wife Mable said for the first year when she insisted he not be on the sidelines, he sat in the house and pouted like a little child.
“It meant and still means so much to him,” Mable said.