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Smokey returns to the mat

by Chuck Smock

Romaine Smokey III didn’t really pursue wrestling. He didn’t have to. The sport came looking for him.

Smokey’s father, Romaine Smokey Jr., and his uncles, including Tony, Stan and Aaron, all were excellent wrestlers in addition to being great all-around athletes.

From the time he could walk, the younger Smokey had access to all the sports -and all the coaches -he could ask for. Football. Basketball. Baseball. And, yes, wrestling. The sports seasons ran together as regularly as spring, summer and fall.

Until last winter.

Two years after the death of his father, Smokey needed a break from wrestling. A long sophomore season on the DHS junior varsity football team had drained him physically and emotionally. He couldn’t make himself want to wrestle.

“I was tired from football,” Smokey explained. “And I didn’t really like wrestling. I just did it because, mainly, I was good at it. I did it because of my dad and my uncles. They didn’t make the decision for me, but they knew I was good. My dad and my uncles all wrestled in high school. I just wanted to be like them. I made my dad proud when I was wrestling.”

One week after Romaine Smokey III finished his 7th-grade wrestling season with a 24-0 record and a Tah-Neva championship, his dad passed away following heart surgery.

Smokey wrestled during his 8th-grade and freshman seasons, but finally had to take a year off. Any ill effects of the layoff haven’t been apparent when the Douglas junior has stepped onto the mat this season.

Heading into tonight’s three-way meet with Carson and South Tahoe at Carson, Smokey has posted an 11-1 record at 119 pounds and is one of a handful of Tigers who has a good shot at advancing to the state tournament in February.

The break was good for him, Smokey said. The time away from the wrestling room gave him a chance to think.

“I kind of knew that (wrestling) was the sport I was going to be good in, but I was sad I lost my dad,” Smokey said. “I kept wrestling until 9th grade, but I gave it up. I didn’t like it, really, and my dad wasn’t around to cheer me on or to say everything that was good for me.

“It was a relief for a couple weeks, but then, when I started seeing the guys wrestle, I started missing it. Then, I realized my dad would want me to keep wrestling and that I shouldn’t stop because he passed away.”

Driven by a sense of pride and a desire to make his family, friends and fellow members of the Washoe Indian Tribe happy, Smokey has returned to the sport with a renewed focus.

Douglas wrestling coach Ron Hall, who along with fellow DHS football coach Mike Rippee was part of a wrestling dynasty at Yerington High in the 1970s, said taking a break from any sport can cause a setback. The amount of regression is up to the individual, he added.

“It always hurts you, just how much, I don’t know,” Hall said. “He’s come back and worked hard this season and he’s right back in there at the top in his weight group.

“Romaine is a hard-working kid. He has good strength because he works in the weight room in the off-season. And he wrestled in junior high, so he had a lot of skills before coming in. It’s kind of like riding a bike. Wrestlers don’t forget how to wrestle.”

Hall had a one-word answer when asked what makes Smokey so good on the mat.

“Toughness,” the coach said. “That is probably a bigger strength than even his skills. Romaine really hates losing.”

And that’s because he thinks about his dad before, during and after every match.

“I just continue to wrestle because of my father,” Smokey said. “I think about my dad and I know he’d like me to do the best I can. I just think of it as him watching me and I wouldn’t want to let him see me get beat.

“I also wrestle for my uncles, my family, my Tribe; there’s a lot of support from my tribe. It brings a smile to my face and a warm feeling to my heart when I see a lot of people there to watch. I never really had support before when I was younger because wrestling wasn’t the sport that people watched.”