By Sam Adams, Freelance Writer
At 103 pounds, Smith gave football a try at Denver North High School, knowing that he preferred wrestling mats over grass. He attended Skinner Junior High when he saw his first wrestling match, at North. “I thought, I’ll try that. Once I tried it I loved it,” he said.
Smith earned state tournaments medals while at North High School in 1953 and 1954. He went on to wrestle at Colorado State College (now the University of Northern Colorado) for legendary wrestling coach John Hancock. Smith was the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conferences 115-pound champion in 1958, after placing second at the conference championships the year before.
Hancock, who was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1969, made a great impression on Smith. “He was quite a gentleman’s gentleman,” Smith said of Hancock. “He just knew how to handle kids. A lot of my coaching was patterned after him.”
Smith’s coaching career began at Wary High School in 1958. In 33 years at the school, Smith’s wrestling team won 10 state tournament championships, with seven second-place finishes and three third-place finishes. Smith coached 39 individual state wrestling champions – including five at the 1969 tournament.
Smith retired from Wray in 1991, leaving with a record of 337-73-9. He didn’t leave coaching, however. Smith stepped up to the collegiate level, coaching at Fort Hays (Kansas) State University for eight seasons until 2000.
Smith’s largest contribution to the sport of wrestling in Colorado may have been his persistence in trying to convince officials to move the state wrestling tournament to one site. His efforts came to fruition in 1987, when the tournament was moved to McNichols Arena. “It was the best thing to happen for wrestling in Colorado,” Smith said. “It brought all the classifications together.”
The site switched to the Pepsi Center in 2000, and Smith, to date, still maintains a visible presence at the tournament.
The 41 years of coaching wrestling Smith has received almost too many honors to count. The impressive list includes Colorado Wrestling Coaches Association Coach of the Year (eight times), National High School Coaches Association’s Wrestling Coach of the Year (1984), Colorado High School Coaches Hall of Fame (1989), Colorado High School Activities Association Hall of Fame (19980 and a Lifetime Service Award from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2001.
I thought, I’ll try that. Once I tried it, I loved it.