BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – He’s hung medals around the necks of some of the best wrestlers to go through Fort Madison. And now the ISHAA is hanging one around his.
Fort Madison’s head wrestling coach, Ryan Smith, has been selected to receive the Iowa High School Athletic Association’s Character Counts Coach of the Year award. He’ll receive the award and recognition at halftime of the Class 4A state basketball semifinal game on March 7.
Smith has spent the last 22 years of coaching in the Fort Madison High School system, 21 as head coach of the Bloodhound wrestling team.
The award recognizes coaches in the state who embody the association’s six pillars of character: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship.
Smith said he was honored with the award and was taken aback a little when he got the call.
“I’m a little squeamish about things like this,” Smith said. “The guy called and I was in class and couldn’t take the call and he left a message to call him back. I thought maybe I was nominated for something, but I didn’t really get that I had actually been picked.”
He said the honor is more of a collaboration of things than any one single person’s accomplishment.
“I think I give most of the credit for this to my parents and the upbringing they gave me and my siblings,” he said.
“But I think also a big part of it is what we try to promote here at Fort Madison. It’s not just the sports and competition…we try to prepare these athletes for what’s in the real world.”
As part of the award, the ISHAA will present FMHS with a $1,000 grant funded by the Iowa Institute for Character Development and the Iowa Games.
Smith said there’s been some preliminary discussion on how best to use the grant.
“I think we might use it send some athletes to a leadership camp in the Des Moines area. We’ve talked about that. It focuses on integrity and what’s next for these kids, and I think that’s a big part of what we try to promote here.”
Fort Madison High School Activities Director Jeremy Swink sent in a nomination for Smith. Swink is in his first year in the position and sent the nomination Jan. 24.
A celebration is being planned for Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. in the Media Center.
Swink said just working with Smith for not even a year, he could see he embodied what the award stood for.
“Ryan has shown the determination, dedication, and responsibility necessary to be a successful and effective leader in our school and community,” Fort Madison Athletic Director Jeremy Swink wrote in his nomination.
“His goal as the wrestling coach and Spanish teacher is much more than to teach his students the curriculum or the proper technique of a single leg, but to teach them life-lessons that someday will enable them to be the best person they possibly can be.”
Smith grew up in Dubuque and attended Wahlert High where he was a multi-sport athlete participating in football, wrestling, and baseball.
Smith then attended the University of Iowa, where he wrestled as a Hawkeye for legendary coach and U.S. Olympian Dan Gable. He earned a degree in Spanish there graduating in 1995.
He went on to get his teaching certificate in 1997 from Loras College in Dubuque.
Smith took his first teaching job that year in Fort Madison Schools as the high school Spanish teacher and varsity wrestling coach. He served under head coach Mike Riley for one year and then took over the program. He’s also had stints as the junior high football coach and helps with the high school football and athletic enhancement programs.
His lives in Fort Madison with his wife Jill, and the couple’s three kids, Teague who is 13, Mara, 10, and Lyla, 8.