A true legend of North Carolina wrestling passed away early Monday morning.
Former UNC-Pembroke head coach Paul "PJ" Smith was one of the great ambassadors for the sport of wrestling in North Carolina and beyond. His sudden passing has rocked the North Carolina wrestling community, as well as sparked numerous tributes online.
PJ began his wrestling journey in Raleigh, where he wrestled for Enloe High School and later NC State University. He began his coaching career at Jacksonville High School, with stops at Ravenscroft and West Millbrook Jr. High before moving to the college coaching ranks in 1978.
PJ took over at UNC-Pembroke in 1981, where he served successfully for twenty-five seasons. During his tenure he not only amassed an outstanding record of success, but he also led the fight to keep the UNC-Pembroke program alive while many other Easter NC programs were shuttered through the 1980's and 90s.
Smith was also heavily active in other wrestling organizations. He was a long time board member for NCUSA Wrestling, and also served as State Chairperson for several years. He served in every role imaginable, from national team coach, to official, to Bronze course instructor, to trainer. He was voted the NCUSA Person of the Year in 1991 and again in 2001, and in 2011 he was voted the USA Wrestling Beach Wrestling Person of the Year for his role in helping bring beach wrestling to the east coast.
Outside of USA Wrestling, PJ was well known as an official. He officiated all styles of wrestling, including folkstyle, freestyle, greco-roman, belt, and beach wrestling. You could find PJ most Saturday's in a gym with a whistle, serving the wrestling community with a smile, and often doubling as the trainer for smaller events when other trainers were not on hand. In 2004 he earned the NCHSAA Golden Whistle award, and in 2006 became a member of the NC Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the NCAA Division II Hall of Fame in 2006 and also the UNC-Pembroke Hall of Fame in 2015.
PJ also served on the Hall of Fame Board of Directors, and was a vocal advocate in support of the Hall of Fame and its mission. He was also active in the Red Cross, and helped start numerous wrestling programs across eastern North Carolina.
Beyond wrestling PJ was known as a friend and mentor to countless wrestlers, officials, and coaches. His sense of humor, his sometimes blunt "PJ-isms" , and his inquisitive questioning endeared him to all who had the pleasure of knowing him. PJ gave constantly to the sport of wrestling and its participants, and he fought to grow wrestling throughout North Carolina and beyond.
To know more of PJ's wrestling career CLICK HERE to see his complete National Wrestling Hall of Fame Bio.
To read what the Robesonian News had to say , CLICK HERE.