Lee Roy Smith Sr. was the patriarch of a legendary family
Lee Roy Smith Sr.’s name came up over the weekend. I was at the state basketball tournament, talking old times with former Lawton Constitution sports editor Joey Goodman, and Joey mentioned how the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association used to hire Smith to run the state wrestling tournament, because he knew how to do it better than anyone else.
Smith was self-taught. He knew nothing of wrestling when his oldest son, Lee Roy Jr., threw a kid down on the playground of their Del City elementary school and promptly was invited to join the wrestling team. Lee Roy Sr. believed in doing things all out, and soon enough the Smiths were the First Family of Oklahoma Wrestling.
Lee Roy was an NCAA champion and a three-time world silver medalist. John was a two-time NCAA champion and a six-time world champion, counting two Olympic golds. Pat was the first four-time NCAA champion. And Mark was a three-time state champion at Del City and a three-time all-American at OSU.
Lee Roy Smith Sr. died Sunday at age 83, the patriarch of a remarkable family that included 10 children, grandchildren galore (including athletes beyond wrestling) and an indelible mark on their community.
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I never met Smith Sr. I did get to spend some with his wife, Madalene, for a 2000 Mother’s Day piece that remains one of my favorite columns ever. Madalene talked of raising six daughters and four sons in a three-bedroom house, and “not a lemon in the bunch.” She told me she tells young mothers, “you can rest when you die.”
But I never met her husband. He was quite the man, from all the stories.
“It's getting a little out of hand," Lee Roy Sr. joked to The Oklahoman’s Mac Bentley back in 1994, overall the Smith family success. “We're proud of what the family has accomplished, and really what the sport has done for us. It's helped motivate us, at least the boys, to get an education and do something positive with our lives. I say that because I just don't know what would have happened or what direction we would have gone if wrestling had not been a part of our lives.”
Lee Roy Sr. came to the forefront in 1984, when he went all in on Lee Roy Jr.’s failed legal campaign to make the U.S. Olympic team.
Randy Lewis apparently won two matches in a best-of-three series with Smith in the Olympic trials but then lost both a rematch with Smith and the series when a Smith protest was upheld by a protest committee. Smith won the rematch and then defeated Rick Dellagatta to win the Olympic berth. But Lewis lodged a grievance with USA Wrestling over his first match with Smith. An arbitrator ruled that the final 84 seconds of that match be rewrestled. Lewis won the disputed match and eventually won Olympic gold.
Lee Roy Sr. financially and emotionally supported his son the entire way, but also said after the loss in federal court, “God didn't promise us justice on this earth. I will tell my son that the best thing to do now is go to church, say a prayer and then go fishing.”
Years later, Lee Roy Jr. said, “My dad made a statement one time that I won't forget. He said there is obviously a certain amount of expectation (of success), but the point was that we didn't know there was another way. It's all we've known, those expectations, and it is something that has been nurtured very effectively by our parents. We've been able to deal with it where the fear of failure wasn't crippling, but a source of motivation.”