When he first saw Ja’Marcus Smith in January 2019, Jake Brock had one thought immediately cross his mind.
“We knew he was going to be a state champion that day,” said Brock, a wrestling coach at Detroit Mumford High School.
At the time, such a proclamation probably seemed as preposterous as seeing snow in the southern United States in the middle of summer.
Consider the following:
- Smith attended Detroit Mumford, a member of the Detroit Public School League, which had never produced a state champion in wrestling.
- Smith entered that first encounter with Brock in a wrestling room at Mumford, with the student having never wrestled before. “The first thing he did in the room was run up the wall and did a back flip,” Brock said.
- In his initial high school days, school was often an afterthought for Smith. He would attend, but would often get in trouble in class, in the halls, and would neglect homework. “He had no purpose,” Brock said. “He was just being a kid, but with no guidance or direction.”
But fast forward to March 5, with everyone in attendance at the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s individual state wrestling finals at Ford Field, witnessing the completion of a story that seems too good to be true, but it is all real.
“It’s so crazy,” Smith said.
A fast learner
After Brock set his eyes on Smith in the school’s wrestling room three years ago when the boy was a freshman, the process of transforming his energy and athleticism into a skilled wrestler began.
It didn’t take long at all.
“I learned wrestling fast,” Smith said. “It’s so crazy how fast I learned wrestling. I just watched wrestling over and over and over.”
Smith became a quick student of the sport, watching collegiate wrestlers and also Russian wrestlers on the Internet or TV to pick up some pointers.
As a sophomore, Smith finished eighth in the 112-pound weight class, and he only got better from there.
He finished fifth as a junior in the 112-pound weight class, and this past year, switched to the 103-pound class.
More importantly, Smith transformed himself off the mat as well, taking school seriously and dramatically improving his grades.
“Wrestling has given him a drive and sense of purpose,” Brock said. “(It’s) a reason to want to wake up every day and get something accomplished.”
‘A dream come true’
After Smith advanced to the state championship match in Division 2 at 103 pounds with a semifinal win on March 4, Brock went out and made a purchase that night in advance of the next day’s championship matches.
“I bought a suit the day before (he) wrestled,” Brock said. “A guy asked me, ‘Why did you get a suit?’ I said, ‘I know Ja’Marcus is about to win the finals.’”
Smith indeed did, pinning his opponent to set off a heartwarming and historic celebration after becoming the first wrestler from the Detroit Public School League to win an individual state wrestling title in Michigan.
He pounded his chest, waved his arms jubilantly toward a crowd that was giving him a standing ovation, and then jumped triumphantly into the arms of his coach.
“I’ve been waiting for this my whole life, and it finally happened,” Smith said.
Since then, the attention and accolades have been nonstop.
Smith received special commemoration from the Detroit City Council, has done several media interviews and was invited to be a special guest at the NCAA Wrestling Championships this past weekend.
Smith has also spoken with some college coaches since his historic title, about wrestling at the next level, but hasn’t made a commitment as of yet.
Regardless, his impact will be felt forever with how he represented Detroit and broke through for PSL wrestlers from this point forward.
“There’s going to be more,” Smith said. “If kids really put their mind to it, they’ll succeed.”