NORMAL — The Normal Community West High School wrestling team still competed in the season opener Tuesday in Princeton, but it wasn't the same without Kevin Scott Smith Jr.
Smith, 16, of Normal was killed Monday morning after a car he was driving struck a tree in rural Danvers. His identity was made public Tuesday.
Smith, known as "Scott" to his immediate family, was a good son and a dedicated wrestler, his father, Kevin Smith Sr., said. The father supported the team's decision to compete despite their grief over their teammate's death.
"We wish them a good season," Kevin Smith said Tuesday.
At school Tuesday, the teen was remembered as a popular student and skilled athlete. Counselors were available to help students.
"He was a junior, well-known and well-liked (especially) among his class, and the wrestlers," Normal West Principal Tom Eder said. "His teachers tell me he was a good addition to the class and was a very good student. He had a close circle of friends."
McLean County Coroner Beth C. Kimmerling delayed releasing his name to the public until Tuesday to allow his family and school officials time to prepare.
The father said both he and his wife were home Monday when the coroner came with the news.
"You still expect him to walk through the door any minute or call and say, Sorry, dad. I'm running late.' Even today it's not a 100 percent," he said. "You kind of shut down. You don't really have an initial reaction except for the stream of tears and the 'Oh my God, is this really happening? It's just unreal."
The 135-pound, letter-winning, varsity wrestler was second among his team in pinning the most competitors last year, said Normal West wrestling coach Jim Eaton. He was an Illinois Elementary School Association state qualifier in eighth grade at Parkside Junior High School.
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"Kevin was a special partner for his teammates. He shared his sense of humor with them," Eaton said, adding that even those at the barber shop when Smith was getting his hair trimmed last week enjoyed hearing his wrestling stories.
After practice Monday night, the coach told the team what had happened.
The teenager worked at University Cinemas in Normal. He loved watching movies and using the computer, said his stepmother, Amy Smith, who had known him since he was 2 years old.
"He was a good-natured kid, sometimes quiet, but always willing to do anything to help," said Amy Smith.
The McLean County Sheriff's Department and McLean County coroner's office continue to investigate the accident.
Police said the teen was driving north on McLean County Road 800 East when he veered to the right and hit the tree head on just south of county road 1750 North.
There were no passengers in the car, police said.
Preliminary results of the autopsy Monday show he died as a result of a blunt force trauma to the chest and abdomen, the coroner's office said in a prepared statement. Standard forensic toxicology tests have been ordered, and an inquest will be scheduled, the coroner's office reported.
His obituary is on Page D4.