The 2015-16 school year could be one of the all-time best in the history of Smyrna High School. The football team won its first state championship. The boy’s basketball team has a winning season. The constant for the Eagles athletic department has been its wrestling program. This installment of the Interview of the Week is with the head coach of that program, Kurt Howell.
WBOC: How did you get involved with coaching and what do you like about it?
Howell: When I was in high school my coach was comfortable enough with himself that he would allow my to teach and run parts of practice. He let me sit next to him during dual meets to help coach and encourage teammates. I loved it when he would ask me lineup decisions. It was a great experience for me. My parents were both teachers. They encouraged me to teach wrestling for young athletes when I was in high school. I have always been a coach even before I was hired as a coach. Besides parents, I see coaches as the most important people in any community. Coaching wrestling allows you to transform boys into men. Coaches help kids identify positive values. In high schools, coaches can be the identity for an entire community.
WBOC: Under your guidance, the Smyrna wrestling team is a powerhouse. How do you continue the dominance year after year?
Howell: Two things: tradition and feeder program. I can’t take credit for Smyrna’s wrestling success. Ron Eby, Buddy Lloyd, Mike Dulin, Clay Lloyd, David Morrison all former coaches contributed to Smyrna’s strong wrestling tradition. Our Little Wrestler program is maybe the top feeder program in the Mid-Atlantic Region. There are tremendous coaches that have contributed to the rise of Smyrna as a powerhouse. They take kids to tournaments, dual meets, and events all around the region. The high school program benefits greatly from experienced wrestlers stepping in as freshman and competing well.
WBOC: What keeps you going? You have guided numerous team and individual state champions. What more can you accomplish?
Howell: Every year is a new group of kids. I love to watch them develop. Kids who come to you and expect you to help them get better, that’s motivation.
WBOC: Can you touch on the feeder program you have for wrestling at Smyrna? I know a lot of these young men are on the mat at very young age, which ultimately helps the varsity team down the road.
Howell: Starting at a young age leads to success down the road. Obviously there is a direct link to high school wrestling success and the Little Wrestler program.
WBOC: Everybody has different coaching tactics and philosophies. What are some of yours?
Howell: Sports teach values. Wrestling teaches the value of hard work, discipline, humility and perseverence more than anything a kid can do in high school. All of the things we do are designed to promote the development of those qualities. Wrestling helps kids learn something about themselves that is very valuable to them.
WBOC: Every year the Smyrna wrestling team is the hunted. Everybody wants to beat you. How does your program embrace that challenge every match, every tournament?
Howell: The dialogue in our wrestling room does not include last year or next year. The only time we talk about the past is to determine how we can improve. The only time we talk about the future is to identify a particular dual meet strategy. I don’t think in the past and I don’t want anyone in the room talking about it. We like to focus on the moment. that keeps “hunted” out of our conversations and our minds.
WBOC: What advice would you give to high school student-athletes hoping to play any sport at the collegiate level?
Howell: Be yourself. Dont think you have to excel for someone else or your own self imposed goals. Enjoy what you are doing. You only have four years so make the best of it and have fun. When I go back to Clemson it is all about the things we did together. All-American and titles fade but the relationships you make will be there forever. Use your coaches. You choose to go to school there and you choose them so use them to make you better.