OSU's Big 12 title marred by death of Smith's father
TULSA -- Less than an hour after learning that his father had died, Oklahoma State wrestling coach John Smith held up a T-shirt proclaiming his Cowboys as the 2019 Big 12 champions.
After suffering a stroke late in the week, Lee Roy Smith Sr., 83, died around 9 p.m. Sunday, roughly 30 minutes before the Cowboys finished the final match at the BOK Center.
“Tough day,” John Smith said. “But the last thing he asked when he could speak was, he was concerned about the Big 12 Tournament.”
The father of 10, including multiple sons who became widely known in wrestling, Lee Roy Smith Sr. was as big a Cowboy wrestling fan as anyone.
John Smith watched most of OSU’s seven championship matches from the tunnel, rather than in the corner of the mat, letting his assistants handle the on-mat coaching.
OSU dominated the tournament from the start and ultimately earned automatic bids to the NCAA championships in nine of 10 weight classes.
After the Cowboys finished off the championship round with six victories and tallied 158 points -- Iowa State was second with 114.5 -- John Smith looked at the T-shirt in his hands and found some solace.
“It would be an empty day without this,” he said. “I’ve been blessed. My family’s been blessed. I didn’t have any intentions of talking about my father, but I’m a proud son.
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“What a great father. I’m lucky to have a father that cared.”
Smith did not share any of the details of his father’s condition with his team, though he assumed some of them might have heard.
It had already been an up-and-down week for the Smiths after John’s son, Joe, won a wrestle-off with OSU senior Chandler Rogers to earn a spot in the lineup at 165 pounds. Joe Smith fought back from two losses to win the fifth-place match and clinch an automatic qualifying spot at the NCAA championships in two weeks in Pittsburgh.
"I’m sure it was some wear and tear on him,” John Smith said of his son. “He was close to my dad. Fishing buddies. I think we all have a grandfather that we really cared about. Hopefully we did.”