Westmoreland with x brother copy

The 1992 Austin graduate was an All-American slugger in softball at both Athens State and Calhoun Community College. As a youth, Smothers played in Dixie Youth World Series in both softball and baseball.  She starred in softball and basketball in high school. Smothers was a two-time All-Gulf South Conference selection playing fast-pitch softball at North Alabama, where she was named the school’s Female Athlete of the Year in 1994-1995. After completing her fast-pitch career at Athens State, Smothers led Calhoun to a slow-pitch national championship in 1999.

All-Star in softball and baseball

Smothers enjoyed a unique career between the foul lines

By David Elwell
The Decatur Daily

The softball and baseball fields at what was called Aquadome Park are like a ghost town today.

Three decades ago it was totally different. The Aquadome was the heartbeat of youth softball and baseball for one side of the city of Decatur with girls and boys of all ages competing.

For many years the Aquadome was the home for opening day for every Dixie Youth baseball team in Decatur. The crowd of players, family and friends was highlighted by a rainbow of colorful uniforms.

The fields, four for softball and two for baseball,  were home to young players dreaming of leading their teams to city championships and then playing for league All-Star teams.

Of all the great players who played at the Aquadome, probably none starred on more fields than Lesley Westmoreland Smothers. She played both softball and baseball. The ace pitcher and slugger was an All-Star in each and played in both a softball and baseball Dixie Youth World Series.

“Those summer days at the Aquadome were so much fun,” Smothers said. “You could go there every night and spend time with your friends from school playing ball or just hanging out.”
Smothers  will be inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame on May 4 in a banquet being held at the Priceville Event Center.

Several of the players who got their start at the Aquadome advanced to star in high school and college. Few come close to matching Smothers’ accomplishments. She was an All-American softball player at both Athens State (fast-pitch) and Calhoun Community College (slow-pitch).

In three seasons at the University of North Alabama, Smothers was a two-time Gulf South Conference selection. She was named the school’s female athlete of the year after her junior season in 1995.

“Softball was my passion and I always loved to compete,” Smothers said.

The passion to compete has served Smothers well in the last year as she battles a cancer diagnosis.

“I think being an athlete helps you to be mentally tough,” Smothers said. “I know you need to be mentally tough when dealing with cancer.”

Success on the softball and baseball fields is a family tradition for Smothers’ family. Her parents, Ken and Judy Westmoreland, were both star players. When a family friend built an indoor hitting and pitching facility, the Westmoreland family became frequent visitors.

Smothers’ older sister Sonia was a star softball player. Their younger brother Kenneth was drafted as a pitcher by the Philadelphia Phillies and played three years in the minor leagues. Lesley became a star in both softball and baseball.

“My brother was a year behind me and Dad would always coach his teams and Mom would coach my softball teams,” Smothers said. “When our ages worked out that we could be on the same baseball teams, I would play baseball instead of softball.”

In 1986, Decatur hosted the Dixie Youth Baseball World Series at the Aquadome. Smothers played for the host team.

She was the only girl out of 156 players in the tournament.

“When the boys started getting bigger and stronger, I decided it was time to stick with softball,” Smothers said.

In 1989, both Smothers and her brother were All-Stars. It was the seventh time for Lesley and the sixth time for Kenneth. That accomplishment earned a story in The Daily.

Kenneth was 14 and a Dixie Boys American League pitcher with a 16-1 record that included three no-hitters. Lesley was 15 and a Decatur Dixie Belles Continental League pitcher with an 8-1 record with three no-hitters.

The 1990s was a time of change for softball with the sport changing from slow-pitch to fast-pitch. For some places the change was a slow process. Smothers played slow-pitch in high school at Austin and then moved to fast-pitch in the summer.

“The fast-pitch was more fun and I wished we could have played it in high school,” Smothers said. “Going from slow to fast was not that big a deal as a hitter. You just had to adjust your timing at the plate.”

Smothers joined the young University of North Alabama softball program in 1992. After hitting .240 in her freshman season, Smothers broke out as a sophomore infielder with a .379 batting average with 50 hits, including five home runs, 35 RBIs and 33 runs scored to earn All-Gulf South Conference honors.

In 1995, Smothers repeated the All-GSC honor with another stellar season at the plate. She hit .357 with 41 hits in 115 at bats with 24 runs scored, 32 RBIs, 7 doubles, 3 triples and 8 home runs while striking out just four times.

After three seasons at UNA, Smothers decided to finish her college career at Athens State. It was a move to a smaller NAIA school, but Smothers thought it was an opportunity to play for a more successful program under head coach Larry Keenum.

The move paid off for Athens State with the Bears advancing to the NAIA Championship tournament in Decatur. Smothers earned All-American honors while hitting .316 in what she thought was her final college season.

After graduating with a teaching degree, Westmoreland was hired to teach and coach softball at Decatur High. After one year, Smothers decided to pursue a dream of earning a master’s degree in physical therapy. That led her to Calhoun at age 25 for prerequisite courses in chemistry, physics and calculus.

“Stacey Breeding was a sophomore on our team. She and Lesley had been teammates on a summer team,” then Calhoun softball coach Nancy Keenum said.  “Stacey found out Lesley was going to school here and wanted to know if she could be on the team.

“I had to do some research because I knew she had played three years at UNA and then one year at Athens State for my brother Larry. I really didn’t think it was possible, but I found out that fast-pitch softball and slow-pitch were considered two different sports by the national junior college association.”

Since Calhoun was still playing slow-pitch that meant Smothers was eligible to play for the Warhawks, who happened to be the defending national champions in slow-pitch.

The upside for Smothers was that a scholarship would pay for her return to the school. The upside for Calhoun softball was picking up a great hitter who happened to play the key position of shortstop.

Again Smothers lived up to the expectations. The Warhawks (56-7) repeated as national champions. Smothers hit .660 for the season and received All-American honors.

The MVP of the national tournament had one season of eligibility left, but Smothers decided to call it a career.
“Actually I had run out of classes to take at Calhoun and it was time to move on to physical therapy school,” Smothers said.

It was the end of a storied and unique career. How many female athletes have the opportunity to play in both a Dixie Girls softball World Series and a Dixie Youth baseball World Series? How many softball players received All-American honors playing both slow-pitch and fast-pitch?

The physical therapy dream turned into the reality of a long career in that field for Smothers.

“I enjoyed every minute on the ballfield,” Smothers said. “Those were special times that I will never forget.”

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