Ball State U. athlete dies in accident

MUNCIE, Ind. (U-WIRE) – Remembered as calling himself the next Tiger Woods by his friend Brandon Malone, Travis J. Smith loved the game of golf. His mother, Tami Smith, said it was his dream to play golf professionally. That dream made him a part of the men’s golf team for Ball State University.

Travis, 19, died Saturday after a car accident on Riverside Avenue.

“It’s a tragic loss,” men’s golf coach Mike Fleck said. “From a golf standpoint, he was a kid who came in as a freshman and was competitive throughout the entire fall season. He was preparing for the spring season and from a playing standpoint, he was probably one of the runner-ups for (Mid-American Conference) Freshman of the Year.”

Travis was born May 5, 1987, to James and Tami Smith in Terre Haute, where he lived most of his life until coming to Ball State in the fall. His sister, Courtney, is in high school.

“He was my baby,” Tami Smith said. “He was my first born. When you talked to him, he always said ‘I love you.'”

He followed his father, who was a four-year letter winner in basketball at Indiana State University, into athletics, but chose to play golf instead of basketball.

Malone, a freshman at Marion College, said he used to play basketball with Travis when they were younger and then on opposing teams for about eight years until Travis quit the basketball team to concentrate on golf.

“He was much better at golf,” Malone said. “Travis was a friendly guy. He never really had enemies. He always liked meeting new people, especially girls. Everybody that I knew liked him.”

While a majority of Travis’ life was golf, he liked Ball State and the people there, future roommate Steven Krieg said. “He enjoyed partying at Ball State, but, being an athlete, he had to be careful what he did,” Krieg said. “He would rather drive 100 miles to see a friend than stay here and drink. That’s just the kind of person he was.”

Fleck said Travis significantly contributed to the team. As a true freshman, Travis challenged the seniors on the team and earned their respect.

“Travis played a huge role on our team,” senior C.D. Hockersmith said. “There is nothing we can replace him with and we definitely can’t fill his shoes. Golf isn’t the most important thing and (the accident) made me realize that it’s just a game.” Travis was very proud of his partial scholarship to play golf at Ball State, his mother said. While he was majoring in accounting and business, golf was his main focus.

Fleck remembered recruiting Travis and said signing him was a relief.

“I thoroughly enjoyed recruiting him,” Fleck said. “My recruiting relationship with his parents and grandparents are great. I knew when he signed on the dotted line we were getting an unbelievable golfer and an even better person.”

As a freshman, Travis was one of the best players during the fall. He tied for ninth out of 96 golfers at the Xavier Invitational Tournament on Oct. 2 and 3, and his average tournament score for the overall season was 75.2 strokes, which was the second best on the Ball State team.

“He was one of our top guys in the fall,” Hockersmith said. “As an athlete, he believed in his ability. He didn’t boast and he wasn’t cocky. He was out there doing his own thing. He was shy, but getting past that he was funny and obviously he was not quiet when you got to know him as I did.”

The accident and death of Travis is still rolling through Fleck’s mind and he said that he is trying to get his thoughts straight.

“Right now, it’s an hour-by-hour situation,” Fleck said. “There hasn’t been a second where I haven’t thought about Travis, his family, the players and our program. We’re still just in that denial stage of disbelief and shock.”

To help deal with its loss, the team met with counselors, Fleck said. The coaches are helping players like senior Andy Skillman deal with the loss, but he said the sport isn’t important right now.

“None of this has been about golf,” Skillman said. “His character was unbelievable and he had so much confidence. The fact that a friend and teammate is not going to be with you anymore is the toughest thing to go through right now. That is the toughest part.”