Personal meaning

UofL’s Lenny Lyles statue has personal significance to Terry Smith, Jr.

Terry Smith, Jr. poses as he did when working with Ed Hamilton while visiting the Lenny Lyles statue in Cardinal Park.

Each October, the cardinals return to their alma mater for the reunion. Most have a must-see spot on campus like The Thinker or their old college hall, but for Terry Smith, Jr., that spot is the Lenny Lyles statue outside of Cardinal Park on Floyd Street.

The statue has personal significance to Smith, as it served as a model for sculptor Ed Hamilton during its creation.

The statue itself, unveiled in October 2000, was erected in honor of an athlete raised in Louisville who changed the landscape of sport at UofL.

Statue of Lenny Lyles outside Cardinal Park.
Statue of Lenny Lyles outside Cardinal Park.

Lyles became the first black athlete to attend college in 1954 and began as a defensive back and running back for four years. Known at the time as “football’s fastest man,” he translated that speed onto the track, where he set school records at 100 yards and 220 yards – distances that have since been replaced by their metric counterparts.

In the first round of the 1958 NFL Draft, Lyles went to the Baltimore Colts, where, in addition to a two-year stint with the San Francisco 49ers, he spent his 12-year career.

As an athlete of two sports, a member of the UofL Athletics Hall of Fame and a true pioneer, Lyles was to be honored with a life-size bronze statue outside the newly constructed Cardinal Park. Ed Hamilton, an accomplished artist in the area, was commissioned to sculpt and cast the piece, but needed a model as he only had one front photo to work with.

With a build similar to Lyles during his college days, Smith – then a sprinter for the track team – was selected as a model.

“For about a month to a month and a half, I frequented his downtown studio,” Smith said.

A few days a week, he spent a few hours posing like sculpted Hamilton. Each time he walked into the studio, he saw the room come to life more and more, noting the subtle changes made as Hamilton worked using his photographic reference.

“I didn’t really understand the seriousness of this [at the time]”said Smith.

He researched Lyles and began to realize what he was a part of.

“See what Mr. Lyles has done here and the impact he’s had here at the University of Louisville,” Smith said. “It’s a big deal because of the history – of him being an African American, to come here and make the impact he’s made in his sports.”

Now, 21 years later, Smith still walks past the statue with his two daughters whenever he gets the chance.

“I wasn’t really the fastest guy so that’s really my claim to fame,” said Smith. “This is what I consider to be my heritage.”

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