In the Branford Milestone Yearbook, it is written that Hazel Smith Lerche was known for her height and her fate was to work in high altitudes as an airline hostess. Thankfully, for Branford and the various basketball teams which she played on, the 1993 Branford Sports Hall of Fame inductee utilized her height in assisting the Hornets women’s basketball team to successful seasons in the 1930’s.
Smith Lerche first started playing basketball at the Branford Community House while attending junior high school. For four years, she played varsity basketball for Branford High School, including an undefeated season in 1936, a team which arguably is considered one of the best teams the Hornets assembled. One year earlier, the girl’s basketball team enjoyed a highly successful season, winning ten of the fourteen games played. The Lady Hornets scored 415 points in comparison to its opponents 299. Besides Smith Lerche’s presence on the team, Branford also had 1990 Branford Sports Hall of Fame inductee Eleanor Laich Schmitz and coached by Grace Norton Scranton.
During her junior and senior years, Smith Lerche played for two amateur teams- the East Haven Jeffs and the Portland All-Stars. In 1937 Smith Lerche again was joined on the squad by Laich Schmitz and they both experienced being on an undefeated team.
After graduating from Branford High School and being tabbed the Most Athletic Girl while the (Most Athletic Boy was fellow inductee John Yusievicz), Smith Lerche joined the All-American Red Heads, a traveling team out of Cassville, Missouri. The Red Heads traveled throughout the United States and spent the summer of 1940 in the Philippines, playing some of their games on outdoor courts.
Off the playing field, Smith Lerche contributed her other talents to a number of organizations, including her responsibility as the Girls Sports Editor on the Beacon Board during the 1936-37 academic year.
Living in Miami, Florida for the past 40 years, Smith Lerche was inducted into the New Haven Tap-Off Club in 1984.
The mother of two daughters, Jean Marks Colletti and Kathy Lasseter, Smith Lerche also has three grandsons and two step grandchildren.
“This award means so much to me. Branford has always been my favorite town. Anywhere I’ve been, Branford has remained my favorite town. Being inducted into the Hall of Fame, means a great deal to me,” said Smith Lerche.