George A. Smith, 45: Southwest DeKalb girls’ soccer coach

When soccer season rolls around at Southwest DeKalb High School this coming school year, things won’t be the same. George Smith, the coach who has encouraged countless young women to take up the game for nearly 15 years, died Saturday from complications of a heart attack. He was 45.

A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Smith grew up playing soccer and was overjoyed when he had the opportunity to coach at Southwest DeKalb, his wife said.

“He enjoyed sharing a game he grew up loving with the kids,” Angela Smith said of her husband. “He jumped at the chance to coach.”

A funeral is planned for George Ainsley Smith Jr. at noon Saturday at St. Philip A.M.E. Church in Atlanta. Burial will follow at Hillandale Memorial Gardens in Lithonia. Gregory B. Levett & Sons, South DeKalb Chapel, is in charge of service arrangements.

After graduating from Emory University in 1989 with a degree in psychology, Smith worked as a mental health assistant at what was then the Anneewakee treatment center, a Douglas County facility for troubled youths. He soon left that job and began working with DeKalb schools as a special education teacher, his wife said.

His coaching career at Southwest DeKalb began in 1998, but he also coached for a brief period with the Rockdale Youth Soccer Association. He encouraged all three of his children to play, his wife said. He coached his son for a season, and his twin daughters currently attend Alabama State University on soccer scholarships.

As a teacher, students with special needs were Smith’s main focus in the classroom, but as a coach he was also interested in his players’ academic success, said Jasmine McCalla, who began playing for Smith her freshman year. When Jasmine needed help in math, she said Smith made sure she had a tutor and checked on her progress regularly.

“I was surprised at how much he cared and pushed me to do better, on and off the field,” she wrote in an email. “In my two years of knowing him, he’s given me life lessons I’ll never forget.”

Smith’s classroom was a daily stop for many of his soccer players, said Bronwyn Stallcup, the mother of one of the young women.

“Coach Smith was not only her coach but a safe haven for her when she was frustrated with classes or school life in general,” Stallcup wrote in an email. “At the spring soccer banquet, Coach had a smile on his face as he watched his young lady soccer players laugh and enjoy each other’s accomplishments. It was as if he realized what a great team he had put together. He did just that.”

In addition to his wife and children, Mariel, Alayna and Mason, Smith is survived by his father and stepmother, George A. and Jennifer Smith; his stepfather, Dudley Nelson; a brother, Garfield Smith; a half brother, Greg Nelson; stepsisters Heather Nelson, Jacqueline Nelson and Suzette Nelson; and stepbrothers Barrington Nelson and Anthony Nelson, all of New Jersey.