Gebhart, former Meridian High, Georgia Tech star, leaves long legacy
LARGER THAN LIFE Smylie Gebhart as a former Georgia Tech defensive end. Submitted photo
By Jeff Byrd/The Meridian Star
Nov. 30, 2001
He was just 190 pounds in his prime. But as a football player and as a person, no one in Meridian sports circles cast a shadow quite like Smylie Gebhart.
The former Georgia Tech All-American defensive end and member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame died Thursday at Jeff Anderson Regional Hospital. He was 51.
For many in the Meridian community, Gebhart was a larger-than-life figure. Even with his passing, his life will continue to resonate.
Gebhart was paralyzed in 1979 following a freak accident, but continued to play a major role in the community.
Funeral services for Gebhart are scheduled at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Central United Methodist Church in Meridian. The family requests memorials be sent to either Central UMC or the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
Steve Parker of Meridian knew Gebhart since the seventh grade.
Parker, Gebhart and Mac Barnes were all members of Meridian's Big Eight Conference dynasty in the 1960s.
Desire and determination helped lead Gebhart to Georgia Tech University.
In his sophomore season at Tech, the Ramblin' Wreck posted a 4-6 record. In 1970, his junior year, Tech went 9-3 culminating with a Sun Bowl victory over Texas Tech in El Paso.
While Tech slipped a little in 1971, Gebhart shined. Even then, at maybe 190 pounds, he was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press.
He helped lead the Yellow Jackets to a 6-5 record that year. The Jackets later accepted a bid to play Ole Miss in a snowy and muddy Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
Gebhart finished his Georgia Tech career with 217 tackles. He still ranks seventh all-time for Georgia Tech linemen in tackles. His final collegiate game was the 1972 Hula Bowl in Hawaii.
Gebhart was signed by the National Football League as a free agent, but his lack of size finally caught up with him.
Gebhart returned to Tech as an assistant coach with the Yellow Jackets from 1971-72. He later coached at Mississippi State University under Bob Tyler, his high school coach, from 1973-77.
Then in 1979, Gebhart, who had a history of disc problems, suffered a freak accident.
Gebhart was left paralyzed from the neck down. He would spend the next 22 years as a quadriplegic.
Barnes said that Gebhart "was a great motivational speaker. He was outstanding talking to youths about life. I had him speak to my teams and at FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) functions."
In 1980, Gebhart was inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame. In 1987, he was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
His bust and many of his memorabilia are on display at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Jackson.
Jeff Byrd is a sports writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3235, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.