The Paper photo by Lori Poteet 
Oklahoma State University wrestling coach John Smith (right) instructs two wrestlers during Wednesday’s findal day of the Wabash Wrestling Camp.
The Paper photo by Lori Poteet
Oklahoma State University wrestling coach John Smith (right) instructs two wrestlers during Wednesday’s findal day of the Wabash Wrestling Camp.
John Smith receives dozens upon dozens of requests to coach at summer wrestling camps across the United States.

Oklahoma State University's head wrestling coach is one of the most sought after clinicians. But as he's turned older, he's also become more selective.

In fact, this year, he's only working two camps - the one he's worked in Augsburg, Minn., for the past 20 years and the one this week at Wabash College.

Ask him why he chose the two NCAA Division III schools and he'll tell you it's because of their level of commitment.

"[Wabash] coach [Brian Anderson] was pretty persistent and driven and seeing him work hard to try and build a program made me appreciate it. And that's a big reason why I'm here," said Smith, who's coached the Cowboys for the past 20 years and won five NCAA championships.

Wabash's three-day camp ended Wednesday, with Smith as the final big-name instructor.

More than 300 campers had already received lessons from two of Smith's former athletes - 1992 Olympic Silver Medalist and three-time All-American Kenny Monday and 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist Jamill Kelly - along with two-time 197-pound NCAA champion Jake Varner (Iowa State University), 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist Stephen Abas and 1996 Olympic Silver Medalist Dennis Hall.

It took Anderson two years to get Smith to Crawfordsville. There were lots of phone calls and e-mails exchanged - and the Oklahoma City flooding provided a problem on Tuesday. But Smith remained committed and was there for Wednesday's last day. He was impressed - by the facilities, by the numbers and by the camp itself.

"This camp is good for kids. I can see from the standpoint I look at the opportunities kids have today, they need to have good things, especially kids at this age. And they need to have a good environment. That's how I judge a camp," Smith said. "When kids leave, they are very motivated about wrestling. They are very motivated to try to get better. They don't get that a lot of places, at their homes and even on their own teams."

Smith has coached and participated in many camps. He's also had quite a successful career.

Smith wrestled at Oklahoma State and finished with a 154-7-2 individual career record and winning individual NCAA championships in 1987 and 1988.

He's coached his alma mater for the past 20 years, compiling a 296-44-5 overall record and winning five NCAA championships. He's coached the 2000 USA Olympic Wrestling team.

And although he likes teaching younger athletes about techniques and moves, he thinks there are a few life lessons that are even more important.

Sometimes words of wisdom and encouragement are more important than moves and technique.

"My big message is that kids need to understand in wrestling, or in anything else, that if you want to be good at something, they've got to be different from your peers and probably a lot of their teammates," Smith said. "In today's world, people tend to stay in one spot. They don't get a lot better. With the challenge of the Internet, cell phones, X-Boxes, there are so many things that can take away their focus from what they want to do. You've got to be different."

Smith definitely reached incoming Crawfordsville High School sophomore Brett Johnson.

When Johnson heard about the camp, he was excited about learning from all the Olympians and experienced wrestlers.

He's only wrestled one year in high school and hoped to gain tips that will help him in the years to come.

"I learned wrestling is about getting into good position and really using your techniques and getting after it. And not going easy on the other guys," Johnson said. "[But] it definitely involves life. You've got to be good at it [wrestling]. If you're not, keep working. You have to stick to the fundamentals and know you can come out on top if you do that."

Incoming Southmont Junior High seventh-grader Alex Worm agreed.

This marked Worm's first time attending the Wabash camp. A Southmont Youth Wrestling Club member, he decided to attend to gain more experience.

Worm liked meeting new coaches, new wrestlers, learning new moves (a pinch head-lock) and making new friends. He also learned a couple of valuable lessons Wednesday.

"I've learned how to keep control with my hands and different bottom [position] moves and how to handfight," Worm said. "You have to keep pushing yourself, just push yourself to the limit."