By STEVE KRAH
It’s a word that appears on T-shirts.
Teams shout it as they break huddles.
It’s a closeness and a bond they’re building as they work together.
Plymouth High School head wrestling coach Travis Smith has taken his blended brood of a wife, four boys and a girl and added the members of the Rockies program.
“We’re like a big family,” says Travis. “I don’t know how many kids stay at my house on a regular basis.
“I’ve raised my sons to be very loyal to each other. We don’t fight and bicker as a family. I discipline as needed. They don’t argue with each other. I don’t allow that.
“Because of the family environment we’ve had the privilege of being involved in together we welcome everybody else.”
It’s a welcoming atmosphere.
“We draw people to us as a family,” says Travis. “That’s why kids want to be around because of security, safety and they know they can trust us.
“We’re going to ride and die with them everyday.”
After a few years as a volunteer under Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Read, Smith took over and 2022-23 is his third season in charge at Plymouth.
Travis is married to Cortney Smith.
“She’s the glue,” says her husband.
Their family includes Gavin Banks (22), Dominic Smith (19), Caydn Smith (16), Wesley Smith (16) and Angel Smith (13).
Gavin Banks (Class of 2018) and Dominic Smith (Class of 2021) are former Plymouth wrestlers, Rockies assistant coaches and Lincoln Junior High head coach and assistant respectively.
Caydn Smith (152 pounds) and Wesley Smith (145) are juniors on the PHS squad.
Angel Smith is an eighth grader who will help launch girls high school wrestling at Plymouth in 2023-24.
Caydn and Wesley appreciate the close atmosphere of Plymouth wrestling.
Says Caydn, “We try to create strong bonds with everybody on the team.”
Says Wesley, “We all motivate each other. Nobody (outside the team) really sees that side and what we have to do to prepare for matches. Having those guys in the room are big supporters.”
Travis Smith started at Valparaiso High School and finished at North Judson-San Pierre Junior/Senior High School, grappling for the Bluejays and graduating in 2001.
“I was mediocre in school,” says Travis. “When I became a grown man and started training for (Mixed Martial Arts) and Jiu-Jitsu I got the opportunity to train with a lot of good wrestlers. That’s how I ended up being able to pass that on.”
The owner of Hybrid Combat Club — an MMA gym in Plymouth that teaches Brazlian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai and houses the Hybrid Wrestling Club — has witnessed a mat progression in his family.
“Gavin was the rough draft,” says Travis of the son he adopted when the boy was very young. “Gavin and Dominic didn’t get the resources that Caydn, Wesley and Angel have.
“(Caydn and Wesley) have been able to piggyback off the mistakes we made coming up together. I didn’t have a lot of experience when I was younger so I had to grow with them as a coach.”
With 85, Banks is in the top 10 on the Rockies all-time career wins list.
“My dad and I watched a lot of YouTube and I wrestled a lot of club matches,” says Gavin of his experience in learning the sport. “A lot of it came from at-home work.”
Gavin assesses his younger brothers.
“Wesley and Caydn are very knowledgeable, technical wrestlers,” says Gavin. “Wesley is more savvy when it comes to wrestling. He’s stingy and hard to score on. Caydn is a strong, athletic kid who can do a lot.”
Gavin says having a large arsenal is helpful, but the successful wrestlers have go-to moves.
“Being great at a few things is much better (than being OK at many),” says Gavin.
Dominic has learned that the fluidity of Jiu-Jitsu moves translate well to wrestling.
A club, junior high and high school wrestler at Plymouth, Dominic had Read as head coach his first three seasons and his dad took over his senior year.
It was his “one-more mentality” that Dominic appreciated about Read.
“Uno Mas. He said it all the time,” says Dominic. “You’ve always got one more.”
He says it was a dream to wrestle for his father.
“He’s a great coach,” says Dominic.
He recalls Gavin as a wrestler.
“The big thing that everybody remembers is how natural he was,” says Dominic. “He was always so calm. He never had a worry in the world. He was always ready. We was never going to quit.
“He was always present in a match.”
Dominic says each brother has wrestled with this own style.
“Caydn’s a very, very nasty wrestler,” says Dominic. “He doesn’t care who you are he’s going to press you. Overall, the kid is just mean.
“Wesley is a very, very technical wrestler. He’s always in good position. He’s always ready for anything coming at him.”
Caydn describes his strengths as a wrestler.
“I can just go,” says Caydn. “My cardio is really solid.”
Caydn subscribes to the idea of less is more.
“Perfect a few moves and stick to those,” says Caydn. “Just find different ways to hit those moves.”
Wesley talks about his stinginess and mat approach.
“I don’t give up a lot of points,” says Wesley. “I don’t give up on my position. Some kids don’t know when to bail and when to fight for position.”
Angel started grappling about the time she started school.
“I was born into wrestling and I was always at tournaments with my brothers so I thought I should try it,” says Angel. “I started when I was very young and I’m glad I did because it progressively did get harder.
“My brothers are very good at teaching a bunch of stuff on my feet. Wesley’s very technical on his feet. A lot of stuff that I do I’ve implemented from Wesley.”
Angel takes the quote “Don’t Quit - if you re already in pain, already hurt — get a reward” and uses it to drive her.
“I’ve always thought of that during very tough matches,” says Angel. “When I’m beat up and I feel broke. Getting a reward after that is the greatest feeling.”
Mishawaka’s 32-team Al Smith Classic which concluded on Dec. 30 saw Plymouth junior Anthony Popi (285) come in second. Wesley Smith placed third at 145 and Caydn Smith lost in the “ticket” round at 152.
In the Northern Lakes Conference meet Saturday, Jan. 14 at Goshen, top Rockies placers were Wesley Smith (36-1) first at 145, Popi (34-2) at 285, Caydn Smith (30-6) second at 160, sophomore Christopher Firebaugh (26-10) third 132, junior Alonzo Chantea (21-8) fourth 113, junior Seth Wright (22-8) fourth 138 and senior Matthew McCrum (22-9) fourth at 182.
The Rockies host the Plymouth Sectional Jan. 28. The IHSAA tournament continues with the Penn Regional Feb. 4 and East Chicago Semistate Feb. 11 and concludes with the State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.