Sports

Shawn Jansen: Wrestling coaches a different breed

Shawn Jansen
Shawn Jansen

It's an exciting time to be a wrestler.

The postseason journey started last week with conference tournaments.

Forty-one area wrestlers made their way through the Central California Conference tournament. Eight took home CCC championships.

Today they'll head to Turlock for the next step -- the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South tournament.

The ultimate goal is a trip to Bakersfield in two weeks for the state tournament. A chance to wrestle the best wrestlers in California.

The harsh reality is only a handful of wrestlers will reach that goal.

So while it's an exciting time for the sport, it can be a stressful few weeks for the coaches.

Just ask Merced coach Clayton Schneider.

"I'm a worrier," Schneider said. "I'm stressing constantly. I probably lost six pounds this week just because I worry a lot.

"You get to the point that you just want to get it over with. You build yourself up so much for certain things to happen."

Wrestling coaches are a different breed.

In other sports you might see a few coaches out there just to pick up an extra stipend check.

You won't find those type of coaches in wrestling.

You won't find coaches more passionate about their sport than wrestling coaches.

They have to be to put in that amount of time.

All you have to do is look around.

Coaches like Schneider, Golden Valley's Chopper Mello, Atwater's Paul Bristow, Buhach Colony's Eric Osmer and Los Banos' Dan Roton have been doing this for a long time.

That's why these guys know it's going to be an emotional two days in Turlock.

Talk about a rollercoaster.

One moment they might get to celebrate as one of their wrestlers punches his ticket to next week's Sac-Joaquin Section Masters tournament.

The problem is the celebrations are often cut short because five minutes later they may have to console a wrestler after his season suddenly ends.

"You put so much time in with the kids for many years," Mello said. "For the seniors, it's the end of the road and it's difficult.

"At the same time, you know the end of the road is coming at some time."

I don't know if there is another sport where the bond between player and coach is as close as it is in wrestling.

You might see a football coach become real close with his star quarterback.

Or a baseball coach form a close relationship with his stud pitcher.

However, most coaches don't get the one-on-one time with their athletes that wrestling provides.

Whether it's all the practice time in the wrestling room.

The two to three hours rides too and from tournaments.

The 12 hours spent in the gym at the tournament.

The overnight stays in the hotels for two-day tournaments.

"I used to coach football and you get close to your guys, but wrestling is different," Schneider said.

"If you're involved in the youth program...I have some kids that I've coached for 12 years.

"You're definitely a lot closer to the kids. Other people who don't know about wrestling don't understand the amount of hours we put in with the kids.

"On a week where we go to a two-day tournament, I might spend 50 to 60 hours with the kids that week."

That's why coaching can be a tough gig.

It's tough to watch one of your guys come to grips with the end of his season.

Sometimes there isn't much you can say as a coach.

"Some of our guys, their whole life is centered around getting to state," Osmer said. "Last year we had Johnny White and James Kelleher finish one match short.

"It was devastating. It ruined my weekend. At the banquet I cried.

"Coaches like me, Chopper and Schneider, we don't have off-seasons. We work year round.

"I took a week off from wrestling this year. What did I think about that week? Wrestling."

A different breed indeed.

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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