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Down to the core: retired Smith to be inducted in Wrestling Hall of Fame
It began when he was young and in love, teaching high school in Sweet Home, Ore.
Darryl Smith and his wife Jody moved to the small logging town, nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range, in 1972 when Darryl accepted a teaching position at Sweet Home High School.
The couple called Sweet Home home for just two years, but that was plenty of time for Darryl to pursue his passion: wrestling. He was an assistant coach with the Sweet Home wrestling program for the duration of his stay.
“I learned more about wrestling in my two years down there than I did in my five years prior to getting there,” said Smith, who will be inducted into the Washington State Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in November.
A member of Central Kitsap High School’s first-ever varsity wrestling team in 1967, Smith has been involved with the sport in some capacity for about four decades. He wrestled for one season at Olympic College before earning his bachelor’s degree from Central Washington University, leading him to become a teacher.
The Kitsap County native, who retired from his teaching and coaching posts in 2004, started to sprinkle wrestling seeds in the area in 1975 when the coach of a fledgling wrestling program at Central Kitsap Junior High abruptly quit a month before the season.
Smith took the job, building the program from the ground up. He stayed for two seasons, compiling winning records in both.
“We had a pretty good team,” Smith said. “In the process, I discovered that in wrestling if you had a decent program and you wrestled another decent program, you usually split (wins and losses) in the middle weights. But you really could tell the outcome of the match was in the lightweights and the heavyweights.”
Shortly thereafter, Smith launched the Noble Fir Wrestling Club along with friend Brad Hamblet to give up-and-coming wrestlers — particularly lightweights with little-to-no experience — an opportunity to learn the sport and hone their skills before junior high.
In 1977, with Noble Fir gaining popularity, Smith assumed the head coaching position at Fairview Junior High. The club wrestlers began trickling into Fairview with more experience, helping the school to 10-0 seasons.
Smith stayed at Fairview until 1980, the year the head job at Olympic High School opened.
“It just so happened that those 10-0 guys were at Olympic now,” he said. “So Olympic opened with a solid wrestling team to begin with.”
In 24 years at Olympic, Smith compiled a dual record of 263-101, winning 11 league championships and coaching six state champions and 36 state-placers. Nine of his wrestlers became All-Americans in college and 14 others became coaches later in life. He also co-founded two additional local wrestling clubs, Chief Kitsap and Kitsap Ironman, while serving as the vice president of WSWCA from 1996-99.
Welcome to the Hall
Smith is one of four men who will be inducted into the WSWCA Hall of Fame in November, the others being Rick Bowers, Rockey Isley and Gaylord Strand. The Hall is currently comprised of 101 members, all of whom were nominated by coaches and voted on by their peers.
The husband and father of three — sons Erik, 36, and Ty, 30, and daughter Holly, 34 — credits those around him for both his personal success and Olympic’s winning tradition on the mat.
“It’s extremely gratifying to be voted into the Hall of Fame,” Smith said. “It’s definitely satisfying. Not just for me, but for my family and the people around me who helped me do it — all the assistants and all the volunteers.”
‘It gets in your blood’
The Hall-of-Famer is hooked on wrestling and always will be — for many reasons.
“The intensity of the sport brings not only adversaries, but it also brings friendships,” Smith said. “Whether you’re winning or you’re losing, you gain a tremendous amount of self-worth, self-growth. It took me a long time as a coach to figure that out — that the guys losing are gaining and showing as much character as the guys winning. That’s part of the beauty of the sport.”
Smith, who works construction during the week and runs a bed and breakfast with Jody on the weekends, believes hard work is a prerequisite for good wrestling.
No sport requires more grit and determination than wrestling, he added, and it requires athletes to test their will.
“They are expected to fight for all their worth to get off their back,” Smith said. “It’s a life and death struggle to get off your back, out of a hold. That takes a tremendous amount of character that most teenage kids never will experience. You get out of it what you put into it. I don’t know of any other sport where you test yourself more.”
Retiring was a difficult process for Smith because he had coached wrestling nearly every day for three-plus decades. He was consumed by the sport.
“For the first two or three years, it was really hard,” Smith said, adding he stayed away from the sport during that time. “I didn’t get involved for two reasons: I missed it and it was painful to go, and I wanted the (Olympic) program to belong to (the new coach) and not be a shadow to him.”
But Smith has settled into post-coaching life. The bed and breakfast — Bird’s Eye View in Bremerton — occupies much of his time, as does his construction work.
“Almost the day after I retired, I started working construction,” said Smith, who has built three houses with Jody. “That has been progressively busier as time went on.”
The couple hosts an “Apple Squeeze” each year in which friends, family and fellow wrestling fans descend on the Smith residence to press apples for cider.
Smith also has discovered a love for traveling — he and Jody have spent time in Mexico the past few winters and recently visited Europe — and has three grandchildren who occupy plenty of time.
And as for Olympic wresting?
“I do follow it as much as I can,” Smith said. “It’s really gratifying to see the program still doing well. In the stands it’s entirely different, much more relaxing.”