SPRINGFIELD TWP. Jan. 9 is annually Officer Appreciation Day across the U.S. and it is celebrated by wearing blue clothing, sending a card to support local police and many other ways. But Springfield Junior High students had their own way to honor the work of one special officer.
The 7th- and 8th-grade students sat quietly in the auditorium at Springfield Junior/Senior High School awaiting their beloved School Resource Officer Sgt. John Smith of the Lakemore Police Department.
Smith had no idea that the students were there or waiting to honor him when he was asked to come to the auditorium.
Once he rounded the corner, he heard the song “Bad Boys” and the students jumped to their feet and gave Smith an ovation that echoed throughout the school. Once he saw the “thank you Officer Smith” sign at the front of the auditorium, he began walking down the aisle to the front of the room giving high fives and hugs to many students on his way.
Teachers Tina Hartong, Angie Callaway and Tom Fleming were involved in the planning and organizing of the event to honor Smith.
“We have always loved our school resource officers; however, Officer Smith has definitely built a lifelong bond with so many of our students as well as staff," Hartong said. "The kids see beyond his uniform. They trust him, which helps in so many ways.”
Smith was presented with letters written by students, and four students read their letters and then presented them to Smith.
Eighth grader Shelby Born thanked Smith for protecting and watching over their school “in even the most difficult of times.” She read that his hard work and sacrifice may not be noticed, yet, he continues to do it. Born wrote in her letter that Smith’s hard work to keep the school safe has helped with the anxiety of students in the wake of recent events.
“Your hard work does not go unnoticed by us,” she said.
Students watched a video that was made to honor Smith. The junior high students spoke to Smith on the video thanking him for all he does: for protecting them, being their friend, loving them and being there for them.
“Officer Smith, you aren’t just any resource officer, you bring happiness to the kids here at Springfield," 7th-grader Jenna Walsh said.
She continued by saying that Smith makes them feel safe and comfortable.
“You are not just a resource officer, your so much more, you are our friend, a familiar smile in the hallway and some one to crack a joke with. You make everyone feel special by acknowledging them and handing out high fives," she read.
Teacher Tom Fleming spoke recognizing other officers in the audience and said to the students, “Can you imagine a world without law and order? Without law enforcement, laws would mean nothing.”
Seventh grader Lane Chapman thanked Smith for keeping them safe.
“You’re a cool guy and I like how you visit us during class," Chapman said. "I enjoy you calling me a great baller and give everybody fist bumps.”
Smith, who is in his third year as school resource officer, said he loves everything about the job.
“It is everything you like about being a cop. You get to interact with the kids all the time," he said.
He added it has really rejuvenated him spending time with the kids. Smith remembers police officers that were in his life when he was a kid, and he still talks to them.
“If they have a problem and they want to talk, I will come talk to them,” he said.
Smith is a 1978 Springfield graduate. He was hired in 1989 as an unpaid reserve officer and was sent to the police academy. He was then promoted to a part-time officer then to full time for the Springfield department. He worked as a narcotics detective assigned to the Summit County Drug Unit and was then promoted to sergeant and served in that capacity for several years before being promoted to captain and then chief of police. After taking the summer off in 2016, Smith came back as the school resource officer at the high school. He then transferred to the Lakemore Police Department as a sergeant when the department reopened in June of 2017. Smith has many certifications throughout his almost 30-year law enforcement career including being a state certified school resource officer, being trained in crisis intervention and much more.
Anthony Ahern, a 7th-grader, thanked Smith for helping and pumping “me up for sports.
"Every time I practice, I think of stuff you tell me," Ahern said. "You always have me ready to play basketball."
“Our kids love, love, love him. They adore him and he adores them,” added Hartong.
Lakemore Mayor Rick Justice said that Smith is more than a resource officer to the kids.
“He is part of their whole experience at the school," Justice said. "Everyone of those kids talked about how he takes care of their fears, cheers them on at their activities, he is more than a resource officer.”
The staff presented Smith with a gift card to Luigi’s in appreciation for all he does.
“We all feel much safer and happier for him being the person he is,” said Fleming.
Smith said that if you combined all the awards and honors, he has acquired throughout the years, they wouldn’t add up to what this assembly from the kids meant to him.