It’s a unique situation, and the demanding sport provides a unique perspective from which to view things.
“(Wrestling) is probably the most important sport,” says third-year Viking assistant coach Chuck Pieritz, who grew up in the sport. “It teaches you values: hard work, dedication, sacrifice. It makes such a difference. It gives you such a backbone. The day-to-day grind, the accountability (within the team). Nothing teaches those things like wrestling. “Are you doing your schoolwork at school and at home? Are you eating the right foods? All of those things. We’re talking about wrestling, but these things apply in life in general.”
Walter Fairley, Jr., long-time coach and former vice principal on the public school campus, now retired, who chooses to continue to coach in the Viking grappling program in retirement, says that at one time Bishop’s had its own program for a short time. But present programs now enjoy a kind of “grandfathered-in” status, due to physical liability.
Fairley, who starred as a prep locally and who was inducted into the Southern California Wrestling Hall of Fame for lifetime service to the sport, asserts, “Wrestling builds a person’s confidence. Why? You can’t go out on the mat saying to yourself you’re not going to make it.
“We had a wrestler at Crawford High (where he taught years ago),” recalls the coach. “He could hardly chew gum and walk at the same time. He didn’t become great, but by the time he was done, he had grown in self-confidence. He went on to Grossmont College and became their student body president.”
Viking head coach Kellen Delaney wants his young men (and women, though the Vikings don’t have any female wrestlers this year) to share in the relationships and skill-building that he experienced in his years as a prep and college wrestler. “I just want our wrestlers to have what I had,” the fourth-year coach says. “I have nothing much apart from wrestling. My present job (off-campus) I owe to wrestling. My boss and I got talking, and he respected that I had wrestled.”
Pieritz, a Chicago transplant, tells a gripping personal story. “Wrestling saved me,” he says. “I lost my dad when I was 12. Wrestling gave me something to put my life into. I don’t know what I would have done without wrestling.”
Valuing the “work ethic” the sport demands to be successful, and the fact “there are no shortcuts” to moving up, La Jolla’s coaches continue to build their team, having instituted a youth wrestling program to introduce younger athletes to the physical sport.
A recent foray to Holtville, in Imperial County, for the Vikings’ annual trip to the huge Rotary Invitational Tournament in the tiny community, gave a young but striving contingent of eight wrestlers experience in the demanding 41-school, 366-athlete event over two days.
Three freshmen and a like number of sophomores accompanied senior 128-pounder Elliot Austin, in his third year competing at Holtville, and junior Isaiah Torres, at 222 pounds. Every wrestler got at least three bouts each over the Friday-Saturday event, providing invaluable minutes on the mat to further try out and perfect moves some of them only recently were introduced to.
Austin, commanding in his discipline and his own fourth-place finish in his weight class a year ago, pinned four of his first five opponents, including two pins in under one minute, on his way to fifth place in the tournament in a much stronger bracket than last year.
Meanwhile, a novice like Tanner Shimp, a freshman at La Jolla High, could be elated after losing Saturday in the so-called “Hard Luck Bracket” for wrestlers already eliminated from the championship bracket with two losses. Said Shimp, at 154 pounds, in excitement after his bout: “That was the first time I have ever shot in a real match” (shooting being when a wrestler, from a standing position, quickly dives for the opponent’s legs to try to take him down).
While junior Torres, sophomore Joshua Jasso at 197 pounds, and Austin made it to the second day of competition in the championship bracket, teammates vying in their respective weight classes included sophomores Hunter Gilbert (134) and Justin Close (140), and freshmen Keegan Leonard (122) and Chase Maisel (128), besides Shimp.
There were moments of levity during the weekend at the event, spanning over 24 hours: Shimp etched his name in gastronomic history by scraping the cream from several Oreo cookies together at lunch Saturday and piling it all on one cookie, eating the mound at one time. No one made history, but all eight Vikings bunked overnight for the second year in a row at the home of Jimmy and Christina Toten of Holtville, part of the tradition of the Holtville tournament, in its 55th year.
“We had chicken and carne asada, with beans and rice” in a late dinner with the Toten family Friday night, reported Leonard. “We slept on air mattresses and couches in the living room,” said Torres, a returner from last year.
The Totens, who enthusiastically cheered for Austin as he fought his way back through the consolation bracket Saturday after a loss Friday night, have a son, Michael, in the Holtville High Viking wrestling program. Said their niece, Julia, who met the Briton Austin when he stayed overnight with the team, “I thought he was faking (his accent).”
“We started the youth program and have increased media coverage and social media to build up our program. I want us to have a monopoly on wrestling in La Jolla. To be the school to go to, because of the wrestling program,” said Delaney.