CORINTH, Miss. (WTVA) -- Most who know former high school coach John Smillie know what drives him more than anything: the game of baseball.
He's also known as someone who speaks his mind and tells players what they need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear.
"With Coach Smillie, you’re gonna learn something, because you’re going to deal with some adversity, some discomfort every day," former player Jay Walker said. "Truthfully -- you know as well as I do -- life’s not comfortable. You better learn how to deal with it."
It’s an impression not lost on Walker during his years as a high school baseball player.
That "tough love" philosophy -- Walker says -- is why Coach Smillie has been such an influence on so many.
"His demands require that you give your best, and that meant the best for a program, and the program’s going to be successful," Walker said.
But today’s generation proves challenging, Smillie adds, not because of a lack of talent, but a lack of focus.
"You don’t see kids playing ball out on the sandlots in the summertime. If they’re not with an organized team, they don’t play. The level of ball has gone down because kids have too much else to do," Smillie said. "Baseball’s not as important as it used to be. And you know, I think it’s hurt in the long run, and we need to do something to get that back into the kids."
That's where the Northeast Mississippi Coaches Association for Better Baseball -- NEMCABB -- comes in.
Coach Smillie helped start the organization in 1991, and out of that came an all-star game where those who play in high school could compete against their teammates one last time.
He also hopes it encourages others to see what former ballplayers have achieved and get motivated to carve their own path.
“You see the signs around us here. That lets you know about the guys who have achieved stuff through the years, not only in the school sports, but in our hall of fame," Smillie said. "Guys have contributed to this area of baseball to make it what it is today. Baseball in north Mississippi is strong, regardless of what people want to say."
And here’s part of the reason why.
Smillie's efforts include a summer baseball camp for those who love the game, an all-star game that’s lasted more than 20 years and a record book he compiles each year with amazing detail as a nod to the area's coaches and players.
All that might make one wonder: what’s Coach Smillie’s playbook for the future?
"I’m 65," Smillie said. When asked how long he wants to continue his baseball efforts, he quickly adds, "As long as I can."
Walker said the love of the game passed on from coach to player stays with them, even if they may not realize what it means at the time.
"He used to say something when we were players that I really didn’t get at the time, but it really makes a lot of sense, and it’s almost how he lives his life," Walker said. "He used to tell us, 'Do things for what they’re worth.' What that means is if something’s important to you, give it everything you’ve got. If it’s not important, don’t worry about it. Let’s not waste a lot of time on it."
Maybe that philosophy explains why Coach Smillie keeps doing what he does.
"I want to leave an impression on the kids about how important it is, how important the game is, how important it is to play correctly," Smillie said. "Always be accountable to yourself to give 100 percent."
Coach Smillie says he wants these kids to apply that unrelenting standard to other facets of their lives as well, a lesson not necessarily from him, but what he takes away from America’s pastime.