Connor Smith’s ‘contagious work ethic’ leads Bears

J. Patrick Eaken

We have heard enough about contagious viruses, but Gibsonburg sophomore wrestler Connor Smith has a work ethic even more contagious. Who would not want that?

Smith remained undefeated at 32-0 and was the only Golden Bear to win a Sandusky Bay Conference championship.

However, the Bay and River divisions were combined into one meet, and Smith led Gibsonburg to a successful defense of last year’s River Division championship. Gibsonburg scored 112 points to defeat second place Lakota (100), followed by Hopewell-Loudon (69), Sandusky St. Mary (57½), and Fremont St. Joseph (17).

Smith opened by pinning Lakota freshman Isaac King in 30 seconds, Hopewell-Loudon sophomore Isreal Ortiz in 1:33 and then he defeated Oak Harbor sophomore Hayden Buhro, 7-2, in the 152-pound championship. In Smith’s second year of wrestling, it is his second championship, winning at 145 as a freshman. He went 34-10 last year and qualified for state.

Smith says having the state meet canceled last year because of the global pandemic helps motivate him this year.

“I want to do better than last year. It sucked, but I know it was my first year and I’d have other chances,” Smith said. “My goal is to get down to state and be high on the podium.”

Gibsonburg coach Greg Spoores admits that last year’s cancellation is one of Smith’s driving forces.

“I think it does. He doesn’t show a lot of emotion, but when he qualified, when he won that match at districts last year he definitely showed some emotion and he was excited to get to that point. It was a little heart wrenching to watch it all get stripped away knowing that we had a good feeling about him placing in the top five and finishing out the year, giving how he was wrestling at the time and who he had beaten,” Spoores said. 

“I do not ever want to see that look in a kid’s eye again and have to tell him that,” Spoores added.

Spoores says that by the time Smith finishes his four-year prep career, he may have rewritten the school record book.

“He is definitely on pace to break several school records, God willing that he stays healthy and things — like the pandemic doesn’t get in his way. Between his 34 wins last year and his 32 this year so far, he is on pace to break the school wins record and probably many more,” Spoores said. 

“I am super-excited to see what he can accomplish this year, given the state tournament will actually happen. He hasn’t had any losses this year and hopefully he doesn’t get any because that means good things. 

“In the same hand he has had some things happen that have made him go, ‘Oh, I need to do this better,’ like getting caught off guard, getting taken down a few times throughout the year, different things like that have made him say, ‘I need to come back and I still have stuff that I need to work on.’ He looks to the coaches for that, which is what is so great about him. He wants guidance and he wants someone to help him. He knows he cannot do it all on his own. He does not look for the recognition. He just wants to go and do his job.”


Work ethic pays off

Spoores is talking about Smith’s work ethic, which is rubbing off on his teammates. Even against the larger schools Gibsonburg had one SBC runner-up, junior Dominick Whetsel (182), two third places in senior Lance Novotny (160) and junior Bryson Leavitt (195) and two fourth places in junior Cole Pietrowski (113) and sophomore Alex Porteous (170). Junior D.J. Ornlef (138) and senior Lucas Zamudio (220) finished fifth and junior Antonio Villarreal (145) placed sixth.

“Hopefully, it is contagious — being a role model, even though he does not want to be, has kept other kids wanting to do better,” Spoores said. 

“His work ethic and his will to succeed to the extent where he is always looking for guidance. He never thinks he knows it all, so he wants the coaches to help him get better. His work ethic transfers to everything that he does — the classroom, weight room, outside of practice, like the extra things that it is so hard to get kids to do. I have had my share of athletes who ‘did not need your help. ’They could do it on their own, and it’s nice to have that kid who wants to be coached.”

Smith acknowledges that no matter how much success he has, he needs to continue learning, especially from tough matches and from coaches who have been there his entire life.

“It is those lessons that teach you,” Smith said. “They have taught me a lot. I have had the same coaches for 12 years.” 

In his 32 wins, Smith has 20 falls, three tech falls and one major decision. Spoores says Smith gets himself into a zone, and he stays there.

“He is one of the most focused kids I have ever coached, possibly, where he has his routine, and he shuts everything out while he is mentally preparing for each match,” Spoores said. “It’s extraordinary to watch him prepare just to get into his little zone and he’s never intimidated, never worries so much about his opponent that he has next — he just focuses on himself and what he needs to do.”

There have been close matches, like the SBC championship win over Buhro.

“He had a good tournament at Tiffin a couple weeks ago. We saw CVCA (Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy), Ontario, Fremont (Ross), and obviously Tiffin Columbian there, and he wrestled extremely well and was undefeated. He had a good win against Mohawk. He’s wrestled really solid all year.

“Certainly, he has had a couple (close) matches. He had a 6-0 match early in the year against a kid from Hopewell, he had a 7-3 match against the (Woodmore senior Cameron) Overmyer kid where he had pinned him previously, he had a 6-0 decision against the (freshman Gage) Summit kid from Carey, so he has had a few. We bumped him to 160 for those matches always looking to get him the best match we can get him.”

What does Smith say about his close calls? He says, “There have been a few matches that have been learning experiences. You wrestle every match like it is someone who could beat you.”






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