Moreover, the Rockville school’s strict adherence to the Jewish principle of Shabbat, which prohibits work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, seemed to preclude the group from growing in a sport in which teams regularly participate in weekend tournaments.
From those humble beginnings, Smith enters this weekend’s Maryland Independent School (MIS) state tournament in Cockeysville as a contender at 152 pounds after leading the Lions — who now boast a former Division I wrestler for a coach and 19 athletes on the roster — to their most successful regular season in school history.
Because of the school policy, Smith must compete unattached at the event, but he makes his final bid for a state title satisfied with his place on the local wrestling scene.
“It would be nice to represent my school,” said Smith, who plans to continue his career at the Naval Academy. “But now, regardless of what the brackets say, everyone knows who I am and what school I go to.”
Standout in other sports
At the beginning, Liz Smith wondered why her only son continued to stick with the sport. Known as a “lifer” around JDS because he’s attended since kindergarten, Max Smith had shined as a youngster playing baseball, football and ice hockey, but progress on the mat proved much slower without proper guidance.
Smith’s mother would drive him to open tournaments on weekends and then watch as he spent the afternoon trying not to get pinned by more experienced opponents.
“I got mutilated,” Smith says now.
(The Smiths attend a conservative temple and do not regularly observe Shabbat, while the school was founded on pluralistic principles, tailoring its policies to follow orthodox rites to satisfy all branches of the religion. Coach Jordan Lipp said approximately three-fourths of his wrestlers keep Shabbat.)
Smith’s break came when he met Bethesda businessman Alan Meltzer during the shiva, or traditional Jewish mourning period, honoring his grandfather, real estate mogul Robert H. Smith, in early January 2010. Meltzer, a noted local wrestling booster who had donated the mat to Jewish Day in 2005, invited Smith to a dual meet at American University.
From there, Smith, now 18, became a fixture at the Eagles’ matches, developing close relationships with the coaches and many of the wrestlers. He threw himself into training and capitalized on the newfound guidance, improving quickly. Meltzer calls him “a natural.”
Smith’s performance in the classroom also improved at the school with a K-12 enrollment of roughly 1,100. At one point, he even asked to be bumped up to a more challenging courseload, hoping to improve his chances of competing at the next level. He received his acceptance to the Naval Academy two weeks ago.