Community rallies around Johnson City soccer coach badly burned in accident


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- A community is coming together for one of their own as they pray for a beloved soccer coach who suffered severe burns in an accident.

Coach Michael Smelser was injured in a recent campfire accident and is now at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Georgia. 

He’s undergone two surgeries and is preparing for another one this coming weekend. 

Many of Coach Smelser’s players and co-workers gathered at Liberty Bell Middle School in Johnson City Sunday evening to show their support.

Coach Smelser is well known in the community and currently works for the Johnson City School System. 

The Principal of Liberty Bell Middle School sent News Channel 11 the following statement on Sunday: 

“Mike Smelser is a beloved member of our Liberty Bell Middle School family as well as the Johnson City Schools community. Mike has such a positive impact on his students as a PE teacher as well as a soccer coach​.  If I know Mike, he will fight this battle with everything he has.  #SmelserStrong  He and his wife, Betsy, and their two boys are in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult recovery.”
-Donna Morgan, Ed. D., Principal at Liberty Bell Middle School

One of Coach Smelser’s co-workers, Richard Church, spoke to us Sunday evening as they gathered at the school.

“We are doing exactly what coach would want us to do. We are staying focused on the season we have. We are staying focused on all of the positive things that coach taught us about perseverance and hard work,” Church said.

Now, Science Hill High School is partnering with Dobyns Bennett High School as the boys soccer teams play one another Tuesday at Kermit Tipton Stadium at 7 PM. 

David Strictland has been a friend of Smelser for over 25 years and is the soccer coach at Science Hill,

“As a community, we’ve talked and decided to support Michael as much as he’s done for the community and at this time of need.”

The Johnson City Futbol Club will be at the game collecting donations for the Smelser Family. 

Alley Kat Food Truck will also be at the game. They are giving all of their profits that night to the Smelser’s. The owner, Alex Weaver, is a former student of Smelser. 

“He coached my brother and sister for years and was one of my teachers in high school,” said Weaver.

Community members have shown support online through a Facebook group called the “Michael Smelser “Coach” Support Page” 

People have also started an online fundraising page where they’ve raised more than $12,000 for Coach Smelser and his family. 

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