Visitors are not uncommon for Lyle Smith, but on Monday, they came bearing a special gift.
Smith, the 100-year-old former football coach at Boise Junior College, got a new power chair at his apartment in the Hillcrest Assisted Living facility on the Boise Bench. Former players, fans and community members helped raise the $4,000 needed for the chair in a matter of days.
“Pretty nice, isn’t it?” Smith said. “I’ve got all kinds of plans for it. I can never thank everyone enough.”
Former players who Smith coached from 1946-67, or knew him as the Boise State athletic director from 1968-81, visit frequently. Dan Lukehart, a defensive lineman on the 1980 Division I-AA national championship team, launched the GoFundMe page to raise the money.
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On hand for the chair’s delivery Monday, Lukehart said the idea first came after Smith had a fall when an ear infection caused balance difficulties late last year.
“He’d lost his confidence a bit. It was tough seeing him be miserable since he’s been such an incredible presence for so long,” Lukehart said. “Coach wasn’t so sure about it at first, he wants to get around on his own.”
In recent weeks, Smith has been able to get around a more on his own, with the help of a walker, but the power chair will enable him to be quicker and as the weather gets warmer, let him be more free outside.
Initially, he got around too quickly.
“When he had the demo chair, his first time out, he knocked the toilet off the bolts,” Lukehart said. “We threatened to put (football field) hashmarks so he wouldn’t go flying all around.”
The new chair, from Norco, is decked out with all sorts of customizable options, multiple speeds and adjustable heights, and even an interchangeable plastic guard. Of course, Smith has two: one blue, one orange, with Boise State decals put on by Lukehart and former quarterback Perry Gossett (1967-68).
“Now he can just ride on over to the bar, lift the seat up and be all set,” Gossett said.
In classic Smith fashion, he rode around, joking to passersby he’s going to take people for rides. He hopes to continue to make progress walking on his own, and whenever the time comes where he won’t need the chair, he hopes to give it to other former Broncos in need.
“Have to keep it in the Bronco family,” said Smith, who was honored last year with a statue on campus.
He turns 101 on March 17.