Back to the future: Past wrestling champs meet current grapplers at Jackpot
Wrestling past met the wrestling present Wednesday night at Palisade High School.
Three dozen School District 51 state wrestling champions were in attendance and recognized in between rounds of the annual District 51 Jackpot Tournament. There are 121 individuals from the four schools who combined to win 158 individual state titles. Nine wrestlers won state three times.
“This brings back a lot of memories,” 1970 Grand Junction state champion Noah Trujillo said. “It has changed quite a bit.
“In our time, we had probably three tournaments (in 1970). Now, they have, what, five or six?”
Grand Junction three-time state champion Ray Coca organized the event with District 51 Athletic Director Paul Cain.
“I wanted the public to remember its history,” Coca said. “I wanted to give wrestling a boost and some publicity and put people in the stands. I wanted to reacquaint the fans with the ex-wrestlers. It was a labor of love as far as I was concerned. I wanted to do it.
“I’m very surprised with the turnout.”
Coca is hoping each of the four District 51 schools will have their own night recognizing its past state wrestling champions next year and in the future.
Fruita three-time state champion Joe Silva, who wrestled in the mid-1960s, admitted he still gets excited going to a high school wrestling event 50 years later.
“I still get sweaty hands when I come to the gym, even tonight,” Silva said. “The competition then was awesome. Everybody was tough, and our coaches were great. We were conditioning and didn’t break rules. We didn’t do it for anything other than pride. I wrestled because they needed me.”
The high school gyms were packed so full back then, the fire department often had to close the doors even with more people waiting outside, he said.
“The other thing is they don’t have the individual duals now like they did. We had the whole thing packed. It was phenomenal. It was the main sport in town,” Silva said.
Three-time undefeated state champion Louie Guillen wrestled a few years later than Silva and remembers the packed gyms.
“We used to pack fans in,” Guillen said. “There is so many more sports now. Plus, the publicity, football and girls sports are getting some of that.
“If we can get more people interested and educated in the sport ... I got my grandkids in it, but they didn’t want to wrestle at first.”
Dean Hall was impressed with the event. The 1982 Fruita Monument state champion recently moved back to the Grand Valley after living in New Hampshire for the past quarter-century, where wrestling is much different.
“Where I’ve been the last 25 years, this is incredible,” Hall said. “I’ve been in New Hampshire the last 25 years. To see wrestling important in the area is awesome. The state tournament (in N.H.) is a one-day event. This is the state tournament there.”
The older state champion wrestlers weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the event. Some of the more recent state champions did, too.
“This is pretty cool,” 2003 Fruita Monument state champion Bryan Bernal said. “It’s neat to see some of those guys from the ‘40s and ‘50s. Wrestling has a lot of history in this valley.”
Grand Junction 2012 state champion Jessie Hoffschneider showed up to watch some of his former teammates, not realizing the former state champions would be recognized.
“I’m excited about it,” Hoffschneider said. “There are a lot of Grand Junction guys here. It’s an honor to be on the same list as those guys.”
A moment of silence before the Jackpot Duals was observed in remembrance of former Fruita Monument coach Jim Stockert, who died Dec. 31.
Several of Stockert’s former wrestlers were in attendance, including state champions Hall, Brian Rush, Dave Fife, Bernal and Joe Meinhart.