PJ Smith obituary: Cause of death of wrestling coach explored

PJ Smith’s obituary and cause of death will be explored here as we try to find out what happened to the wrestling coach.

Johnson, who assumed the role of assistant coach for the Braves when Smith retired in 2006, has been serving as the head coach since 2011. According to Johnson, Smith would annually reach out after the college season to inquire if any Braves wrestlers possessed old wrestling shoes that could be donated to underprivileged children, enabling them to participate in the sport by providing them with the necessary equipment.

Furthermore, Smith dedicated his time to teaching numerous local children how to swim through the UNCP swimming school, which he managed during the summer months. He employed individuals from the wrestling program to assist with the camps and played a pivotal role in helping many individuals obtain lifeguard certification.

“Being a part of it, working the swim school and taking my daughter through the swim school with Coach Smith is something I’ll never forget,” Johnson said. “The guy did it his way, in all facets.”

He was also involved in the American Red Cross, and did much work behind the scenes to encourage the establishment of wrestling programs at local high schools and even other colleges.

“Those are all things that I’m not sure a lot of people are aware of that he did,” former UNCP athletic director Dan Kenney said. “I think that what I would say about P.J. is he obviously is a Hall of Fame member of our athletic family, but I think P.J. did so much more behind the scenes, beyond even wrestling.”

But while Smith’s impact extended far beyond the mat, what he’ll be most remembered for is his role coaching the Braves and his overall dedication to the sport.

“He really kind of discounted his ability as a teacher, but he really was all about recruiting,” Kenney said. “And he loved the sport; he still was involved, as recently as the last three months officiating amateur wrestling.”

Even within the last year, Smith officiated a match between Winans son and the son of his college teammate and roommate Kristian Stewart.

“He got to see the generational impact that he had,” Winans said. “Although it’s going to be a big hole in this community, there are plenty of people that are going to carry his legacy.”

PJ Smith obituary

PJ Smith obituary: Cause of death of wrestling coach explored

“UNCP wrestling, UNC Pembroke, Robeson County, North Carolina, the wrestling community nationally — we lost a good one today, man,” said current UNCP wrestling coach O.T. Johnson, who has known Smith for about 25 years. “I’m not going to lie — this one hits different.”

“His attention to detail, his ability to motivate (made him a good coach),” said Justin Winans, who wrestled for Smith from 1996-99 and is now UNCP’s director of campus recreation. “He made you focus on the little things, and it was more about — I know it’s a cliche, but it’s more about the journey than the conclusion or the destination. He helped develop men, not just wrestlers.”

Smith was known for giving opportunities to wrestlers from less-advantaged backgrounds, even going so far as to open his home for those within the UNCP Athletics community who needed a place to stay.

“He never looked down on anyone, especially people that were not in good situations,” Winans said. “He was an advocate for reaching your hand out and making sure that the least of us was pulled along for the ride.”

“For him, it was about taking care of people,” Johnson said. “He was a servant leader, and that showed in every action he had, everything he did. Even in retirement, he was involved in making sure kids that don’t have could get.”

PJ Smith cause of death

On November 6, 2023, the death of PJ Smith was announced, shaking the wrestling community and devastating family and friends.

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