Seven years ago, Dave Gracia took charge of a Summerville High wrestling program that had not won a league title since 1969. The Bears still haven't put a banner on the gym wall, but they're getting close.
"We started with six kids," Gracia said, "now we have almost 40. Back then, wrestling just wasn't a popular thing to do. It was like we had to grab kids by the shirt collar."
No more. Summerville has become respectable. In fact, the Bears scored 163 points and placed third among 22 schools at the Turlock Bulldog Classic last weekend. They topped all small schools and many large schools.
Matt Duckworth (135), Cody Ainslie (145), Carson Gracia (152, the coach's son) and Cody Stoy (heavyweight) all advanced to the finals. Stoy and Ainslie won, the latter despite nosebleeds which stopped his title match three times.
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Gracia and assistant coaches raise money year-round to replenish Summerville coffers. One of their rewards was the opening of a new wrestling room this season.
Coaches fund raising is no longer an option in these cash-strapped times. Schools offer little or no monetary support for many sports, so it's up to teams and coaches. Any additional work means you're on your own.
Enochs coach Duane Brooks has been forced to relocate his youth wrestling program from year to year, once moving to Riverbank. Modesto City Schools charges $12 to $15 an hour to use facilities, a price too steep.
"Other schools outside Modesto, like Turlock, can just open their room at the gym anytime," said Brooks, who coached Modesto for five years before switching when Enochs opened. "That's been our challenge."
Meanwhile, Summerville continues to build. Calaveras edged the Bears for the Mother Lode League title last year, but Summerville believes this is its year. "We've fielded a full squad now for three years," Gracia said. "We're ready."
NOTES — Central Catholic's David Ferry, an All-Stanislaus District selection last year, won the 140-pound class at the 97-team Sierra Nevada Classic last week. He went 6-0 and beat Jace Billingsley of Lowery High (Nev.) 8-6 in overtime in the final. ... Turlock team members wear a T-shirt with a message in back: "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." Coach Mike Contreras, a Dodger fan, picked it up from an unlikely source — longtime Dodger announcer Vin Scully. ... Los Banos coach Josh Adams knew about Turlock star Fabian Garcia earlier than most. He was one of Garcia's youth coaches. ... This weekend: The Big Valley Classic, a two-day event, at Stockton Arena; and the Gordon Hay Invitational at Calaveras.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2302.