Before their individual match in the state duals championship Saturday night, each Bradley Central wrestler offered up a silent salute to Bears assistant Ben Smith.
"Hey, coach, this one's for you."
Smith was unable to attend the team's astounding dismantling of Soddy-Daisy to take the Class AAA state championship and was relegated to sitting in the parking lot in the cold Bradley Central bus on which the team had traveled to the Williamson County Agricultural Expo and around Franklin and Brentwood.
If the dual loss to Soddy-Daisy 17 days ago didn't offer enough prodding to arouse a hibernating bear, the ejection of the adored assistant coach certainly did.
"I have coached a number of dual meets, maybe 500 or so, and I can't remember more of a total team match," Bradley coach Steve Logsdon said," I was expecting a nip-and-tuck battle, a brawl, a nail-biter."
How good a performance was it? Consider that Soddy-Daisy beat Cordova 64-10, Independence 62-3 and Science Hill 65-3 to reach the final. Bradley then avenged the regular season loss to the Trojans by 44-15.
Smith was told by TSSAA officials and his athletic director, Turner Jackson, that it would be best that he not attend the final after his verbal sparring with a mouthy fan threatened to turn ugly. The fan made a disparaging remark to one of the Bradley wrestlers and from that comment and Smith's reply of "don't talk to my wrestler," the situation deteriorated, threatening to draw in Bradley fans, who heard the exchange, and fans from the other school (Ravenwood).
For his part, Smith's defense of his wrestler and his seat on the team bus while the team was wrestling for a duals championship have installed him permanently among Bradley County wrestling legends.
After the Bears won, they had to pose for a team photo, which Logsdon told them to do in a gentlemanly matter. He then added, though, "Our real team picture will be taken outside by the bus with Coach Smith."
While he couldn't attend the final, Smith was instrumental in the Bears' preparation for the finals match.
"Just say that he talked to the team before we left the hotel and did a wonderful job," Logsdon said. "They wanted to do it for him."
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org and 423-757-6288.