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Legacy of Lander University Softball Player Continues through Scholarship

The legacy of Kariana Elise Smith, a pitcher for the Lady Bearcats Softball Team, lives on through a scholarship established in her memory by her parents Ginnie and Jimmy Smith of McCormick. Through the family's generosity, four Lander students received scholarship awards this academic year. Photo by Laura Brown.

The question isn't what Kariana Elise Smith accomplished in her 23 years of life. The question is: What didn't she accomplish?

The Lander University alumna, whose memory lives through the Kariana Elise Smith Scholarship, had a record of impressive achievements before her death in 2007 from injuries sustained in a boating accident. Growing up and playing sports in McCormick, she was also a member of the Lady Bearcats Softball Team at Lander and an assistant coach of the Greenwood High School junior varsity softball team.

To all who knew her, Kariana was an All-American success story -- an athlete who excelled in softball, volleyball and basketball; a lovely blonde selected by classmates to became Prom Queen, and an excellent student whose great wit, laughter, brilliant smile and charm was appreciated by many, not only those in her athletics circle, but also in the personal lives of her family and friends as well.

"She was a people person. She had friends galore, and we still receive cards and text messages and phone calls from many of her friends," said Kariana's mother, Virginia "Ginnie" Deason Smith. "She made people laugh, and everyone enjoyed being around her."

Her father, James Kirk "Jimmy" Smith said Kariana had an innate ability to make people feel comfortable. "Kariana was so well loved by everyone. She liked making others happy, and people loved her for that."

It was their daughter's love for sports and the family's love for Lander University that led the Smiths and Kariana's host of friends to establish the scholarship, now awarded to freshmen on the Lady Bearcats Softball Team.

Twelve Lander softball players from throughout the United States have received scholarships since the first award was made in 2012. This year's recipients and their majors include Kalei Cline, biology, from Andover, Kan.; Haley Erwin, nursing, from Stanley, N.C.; Rylee Omahen, nursing, from Alpine, Calif., and Abigayle Stokes, exercise science, from Hartsville.

Three generations of the Smith family are Lander graduates. Their history begins with Kariana's grandmother, "Lander Lily" Doshia Duffie, who attended college during World War II while her sweetheart - and future husband -- Norman C. Smith was serving his nation in battle. Jimmy Smith earned a bachelor's degree in visual arts and a master's degree in education, while Ginnie Smith was an elementary education major. Kariana earned a bachelor's degree in exercise science in 2006, following in the footsteps of brother Kirk Smith, who earned a bachelor's degree in business in 2000. He graduated the same year as his wife Michelle, who earned her bachelor's degree in early childhood education.

"Many of our best memories are on this campus," Mrs. Smith said on a recent fall day at Lander, "and many of our favorite times were spent watching Kariana play softball here and in high school."

Kariana began playing varsity softball in the seventh grade. She was eligible to play on the McCormick High School varsity team because there was no junior varsity team. Kariana told her mom she wanted to play softball, so her mom mentioned it to the coach. The McCormick coach didn't have great expectations, but after the first practice, the coach was sold on the young player, saying to Mrs. Smith, "You didn't tell me this girl could play ball!" After that, Kariana played every inning of every softball game through her senior year of high school.

"Having known Kariana for several years as a young girl, she was one-of-a-kind. She was one of the best athletes I have coached," said Gena Wideman, Kariana's former coach in McCormick. "She possessed all of the qualities of a young lady and student-athlete that anyone would be drawn to --compassionate, dedicated, selfless, beautiful from the inside out, team player and a toughness that made her an awesome athlete."

Mr. Smith said he realized the depth of his daughter's commitment to sports when she rose to the challenge - literally from her sick bed - to play a double-header game in Woodruff. Despite her parents' protests - "we thought she was crazy," Mr. Smith remembered - Kariana went to school, pushed through her illness and played that double header, pitching every inning!

Mr. Smith said Kariana explained, "I am the only pitcher, and we would have had to forfeit the game if I didn't play."

He smiled. "She really earned my admiration. As sick as she was, she was determined to play. She did it for the team."

That discipline was a hallmark of Kariana's life. At McCormick High, she was a member of the school band, the National Honor Society and president of the Beta Club. She also earned numerous All-State Academic and Athletic awards, including sportsmanship honors and MVP for volleyball and softball. Kariana received South Carolina's Life Scholarship during her entire education at Lander. At the time of her death, she was a personal trainer for the Body Shop in Lexington and was pursuing classes in physical therapy.

"Everything she tried, she loved it and could do it," Mr. Smith said. "She put her whole heart into everything."

Kariana's heart was filled with great passion for animals, in general, and animal rescue, in particular. In her last conversation with her mother, Kariana asked her parents to help her find a home for a dog desperately in need of love. When Kariana died, the Smiths took her own dog Dorey to live with them.

Kariana's dad said, "After the accident we found a simple note written on her calendar that led to a search for a paper she was to write for one of her classes at Midlands Tech."

The search for the paper came up empty, but the note was, "a word I want on my headstone and why."

The family later found the word on one of her friend's laptop computer that she had borrowed. "The word was 'loyal.' This perfectly described Kariana, and it is now right where she wanted it," Mr. Smith said.

When Kariana died, the Smiths said they chose to fund the scholarship to preserve their daughter's memory and her love for sports. "If there is a young woman who loves playing softball and wants to play in college, we want to help her achieve that goal," Mrs. Smith said.

Mike Worley, executive director of The Lander Foundation, said the establishment of Kariana's scholarship is a tribute to her legacy on and off campus. "For Lander students and the Lander community, this is a wonderful way to honor Kariana and her commitment to success," he said.

To receive information on contributing to this scholarship or establishing a scholarship, contact Mike Worley at The Lander Foundation: