Business Sense: SPORTyler leader's love of sports leads to job she loves

Published on Sunday, 6 October 2013 23:09 - Written by CASEY MURPHY

Cindy Smoak has always been a sports nut.

“I’ve always loved sports,” she said. “I finally found the job I was meant to do.”

Mrs. Smoak, 55, has been vice president of SPORTyler for about six years. Her job is to bring sports tourism to Tyler, accentuate what’s here and help grow it, she said.

SPORTyler is a branch of the Tyler Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is under the umbrella of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce.

Mrs. Smoak has lived in Tyler since 1986, worked for local magazines and became a member of the Tyler Chamber’s Contact Club in 2006. After about a year of volunteering, chamber officials approached her about a job.

At the chamber’s annual dinner Tuesday, Mrs. Smoak received the Mary Howes Award, created to honor a Contact Club member who showed outstanding performance in membership development. She has been a member of the club for at least three years and achieved a minimum of five production awards. It is named after Ms. Howes, the first female Contact Club member.

“I’m not one who really seeks or likes the spotlight,” Mrs. Smoak said of the award. “To me, it meant people appreciated what I was doing and that I work hard.”

In 2011, she received the Johnny Wright Life Membership award, given to Contact Club members with a minimum of five years of service who have earned five production awards and will be a lifetime chamber members. It is named after Wright, who started the Contact Club.

Ms. Smoak, who has earned 24 production awards for bringing in dollars and volunteering at events, said it is easy to sell the Tyler chamber to others because it is such a great organization, grow local businesses and organizations grow.

The Contact Club is a volunteer group of chamber members who work to recruit and retain members. She said joining while working at Tyler Today magazine appealed to her because she wanted to meet a lot of people and get her name out in the community.

At the time, the chamber decided it needed to do something to market its sporting facilities and revamp SPORTyler, Mrs. Smoak said. In 2006, a group was formed to come up with initiatives that included bringing in more junior golf events to the city, creating a kick-off luncheon and working more closely with high schools and colleges to create more events that would allow athletes to play sports, she said.

Mrs. Smoak is the only employee of SPORTyler and works closely with the other employees of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s a great team effort,” she said, adding that they all pitch in to help on each other’s events.

She attends one to two conventions each year to meet people who are looking for venues for their sporting events. She partners often with Tyler Junior College, which has hosted the National Men’s Division 3 Baseball tournament for the past three years, as well as men’s and women’s tennis and soccer events. She also is partnering with The University of Texas at Tyler to bring the NCAA National Softball Tournament to Tyler for the first time. That, she said, will give UT Tyler the chance to show off its talent and bring in revenue. Hosting the events here also can serve as recruitment tools for the colleges.

Mrs. Smoak said they are also trying to grow things on the high school level.

Her favorite part of her job is meeting people.

“If I can make them feel good about their stay … and they want to come back, that’s the biggest reward,” she said.

Mrs. Smoak grew up mostly in Oklahoma but attended high school in Plano. She attended Stephen F. Austin University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in radio/TV with a minor in journalism, and a master’s degree in communications and general business. During college, she worked in the sports information department. Her goal was to be a sports reporter or anchor, but her path took her elsewhere.

When she and her husband, David Smoak, were first married, he worked for a television station in Lufkin. She went with him to football games, running back and forth across the field holding the bulky battery pack and cable cords to the camera he carried. Smoak has been in the sports news field since 1981 and has worked as sports director for ESPN Waco since 2010. Throughout the years, Mrs. Smoak said she also helped her husband get football scores.

“I’ve always been a sports nut,” Mrs. Smoak said.

Her father was a semi-professional baseball player, and her brothers played baseball in college. Her father coached her brothers Little League teams, and both brothers played Pop Warner football. She recalls being a cheerleader for her brother’s team and playing football with her family in the yard during half time.

Mrs. Smoak played basketball in junior high and in intramural leagues throughout college. During high school, she was on the drill team and was a cheerleader.

She said it’s a tossup between baseball and football as far as her favorite sport. She enjoys college sports more than professional, and the Oklahoma Sooners are her favorite team.

Mrs. Smoak’s hobby is watching sports on TV and reading. A self-proclaimed homebody, she said she is “pretty basic” and enjoys being home. That’s when she’s not serving the chamber or on the boards of the Texas Wounded Warrior and the First Tee of Greater Tyler.