MU wrestling coach works toward program's future

Thursday, November 20, 2008 | 6:05 p.m. CST; updated 7:58 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — Missouri wrestling coach Brian Smith says he has poured too much sweat and tears into his program not to protect it's future.

"It's like being a parent," he said, explaining he wants to leave the MU program in good shape for whoever follows him, whenever that might be.

From that comes Wrestling Supports Wrestling, Smith's invitation to the wrestling and university community in Missouri to attend the team's home-opener meet this weekend against Hofstra.

"The reason I came up with this idea was last year Oregon dropped (wrestling), said this was the last year of their program," Smith said. "They don't have it anymore. And they had all this tradition, and national champs and everything. I'm thinking, 'Man, that's terrible.'"

Smith explained that in order to build their baseball program, Oregon had to cut a male sport, which turned out to be wrestling.

"I'm thinking, 'If wrestling was in good financial (shape), with endowments and all that, they would've never touched it,'" Smith said. "So we're one of the most successful programs here (at MU), so people say 'Oh, wrestling's safe,' but the sport of wrestling doesn't have a female sport to match it."

In response, Smith started planning an event to put endowment money into wrestling and boost its future prospects. He wanted to open the season with a big weekend dual meet and have people pay between $7  to $20 for tickets, with all of the money going back to MU wrestling.

"The community's getting behind it. The (MU) administration's really gotten behind it. I'm really hoping people will come out," he said. "We're already closing in on 800 (tickets) sold. I don't think we've ever pre-sold a ticket."

Smith hopes to attract a couple thousand walk-up fans as well.

"We're closing in on $10,000 made. If we get up to 4 or 5,000 tickets sold, we're talking $50,000 for one dual meet would be put away into a scholarship fund," Smith said.

"A lot of people like the concept, so if it goes well, hopefully it'll become a national thing."

Smith emphasizes the benefits a major event could have for attracting new fans as well. That's why they've created video ads to air at home football and basketball games.

"If we can get them out for the first dual, a lot of people will come back for future duals," Smith said.

Through taking on a top-20 team in front of an unusually large crowd, Smith plans to "put on a good show and entertain (the fans)."

Smith also likes the idea of bringing younger athletes, who might participate in college wrestling in the future, to Hearnes Center.

"My managers have called all the (wrestling) clubs, and said, 'You need to come out to this,'" he said.

Smith said a lot of the youth wrestling clubs statewide have avoided scheduling activities like tournaments over this weekend so they could attend.

"What happens with our wrestling community is they get involved in their own... youth tournaments are going on, high school tournaments are going on," he said.

By the time his wrestlers get deep into the season, Smith said, youth and high school teams are too busy to attend.

"They haven't started competing yet, so this is the perfect time to have them out. There's a lot of teams that are coached by former Missouri wrestlers," Smith added, citing St. Charles West as an example under head coach Craig Martin. Smith said Martin is a former All-American.

Smith would like to make Wrestling Supports Wrestling a routine event.

"I think it's really caught the attention of the whole state, and they like the concept, so why not do it (again)," Smith said. "We're hoping we'll get to that 5,300 (attendance level) and have the A and B level packed, which would be neat."

Clearly, Smith wants to build an annual excitement surrounding the team's home openers, and hopes this is a good start.

"Even the Royals sell out on home opening day, right?" Smith pointed out, laughing.


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