While his untimely death has left the wrestling community and his students in shock and mourning, this PJ Smith Obituary will reminisce his lasting legacy.
The former UNCP Wrestling coach, a true legend of North Carolina wrestling, passed away early Monday morning.
Paul “PJ” Smith was a well-respected wrestling coach known for his dedication, passion, and commitment to the sport.
Smith commenced his wrestling journey at Enloe High School in Raleigh. He further honed his skills at NC State University.
Similarly, he embarked on his coaching career at Jacksonville High School. He moved to the college coaching ranks in 1978 after stints at Ravenscroft and West Millbrook Jr. High.
Smith’s famous UNC-Pembroke tenure began in 1981, where he served successfully for a quarter-century. Reportedly, Smith held a 255-150-3 record with the UNCP Braves.
The legendary coach led the fight to keep the UNC-Pembroke program alive through the 1980s and 90s.
He not only coached 33 All-Americans and 13 academic All-Americans but also led his team to two top-10 finishes at the NCAA Division II national tournament.
PJ Smith Obituary
On November 6, 2023, the wrestling community was devastated to learn of PJ Smith’s passing.
He was one of the great ambassadors for wrestling in North Carolina and beyond.
His sudden passing has rocked the North Carolina wrestling community, as well as sparked numerous tributes online. His family, friends, and the athletes he coached were left heartbroken by the news.
O.T. Johnson, UNCP’s current wrestling coach, said, “UNCP wrestling, UNC Pembroke, Robeson County, North Carolina, the wrestling community nationally — we lost a good one today.”
Nevertheless, his contributions extended well beyond coaching. Smith was not just a coach; he was deeply involved in various aspects of the wrestling community.
He was a long-time board member for NCUSA Wrestling and also served as State Chairperson for several years.
Smith was well-known as an official. He officiated all styles of wrestling, including folkstyle, freestyle, greco-roman, belt, and beach wrestling.
In 2004, he earned the NCHSAA Golden Whistle Award. Likewise, he became a member of the NC Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006.
Additionally, he was inducted into the NCAA Division II Hall of Fame in 2006 and the UNC-Pembroke Hall of Fame in 2015.
Lastly, Smith also served on the Hall of Fame Board of Directors and was a vocal advocate for the Hall of Fame and its mission.
A Legacy Beyond The Mat
Beyond wrestling, PJ was known as a friend and mentor to countless wrestlers, officials, and coaches.
Smith had a knack for fostering a sense of community and camaraderie within the wrestling world.
What truly set PJ Smith apart was his unwavering commitment to helping others. He was known for giving opportunities to wrestlers from less advantaged backgrounds.
He even opened his home to those within the UNCP Athletics community who needed a place to stay.
Furthermore, Smith’s influence was not limited to the wrestling community either. He taught countless local children how to swim through the UNCP swimming school.
He also hired individuals from within the wrestling program to work at the camps and helped numerous people become certified lifeguards.
In this way, he extended his support and mentorship beyond the wrestling mat and into the community at large.
The Cause of Death
Although the cause of PJ Smith’s death is a matter of concern for many in the wrestling community, the specifics have not been publicly disclosed.
Regardless, his untimely demise came as a shock to everyone, given that he was seen publicly just last week at the UNCP HOF induction.
However, as with any tragedy, the unexpected nature of his passing serves as a poignant reminder that life can be fragile and unpredictable.