His resumé looks a lot more like ‘sports’ than ‘life lessons,’ but when San Marino High School wrestling Coach John Azevedo had completed his presentation of the same name at City Club’s ‘Sports Night’ assembly last week, it was apparent he is overqualified in both categories.
A two-time State wrestling champion at Davis High School in Modesto, 2-time NCAA champion and a member of the 1980 Olympic wrestling squad that was forced to boycott the Olympics by President Jimmy Carter as an athlete.
As a coach, Azevedo coached Santa Ana Calvary Chapel High School to seven State championships before moving on to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he mentored ten, count’em, ten all-Americans.
Azevedo enters his second year as co-head Coach of San Marino High School’s resurgent wrestling program, which last year advanced to the level of regional powerhouse.
How did all this get started?
“I grew up in Modesto and had older brothers, so I had no choice in the matter,” said the soft-spoken Azevedo. “I had to learn to defend myself. Over the years, I developed a passion for the sport. Without wrestling, I don’t know where I would be.”
Azevedo explained how he was motivated by watching the 1972 Olympics when wrestling greats Dan Gable and Warren Wells won gold medals.
“I was completely inspired by them,” he said. “At that very time, a lot of my friends were getting into drugs and I was setting goals. Wrestling saved my life. Definitely.”
Azevedo chatted about the current state of wrestling, then segued into a mention that he will soon witness the birth of his first granddaughter.
“She will be a wrestler,” he quipped, as he had explained how the sport has grown and expanded to include “the fairer sex.”
Who could fairly kick most of our tails.
“I am trying to have an impact on their lives as my coaches had on me,” he said.
After winning two State titles at Davis, was recruited by every wrestling powerhouse in the nation before he committed to Oklahoma State.
Homesickness ended his career as a cowboy and he ended up at Cal State Bakersfield where he won two national championships – after losing each of his first two trips to the finals.
“I was fearful,” he said, recalling his third title bout, hoping it would be a charm.
“I was fearful,” Azevedo admitted. “My thinking was all wrong. ‘What if’ kept running through my head. All these negative thoughts. I started praying. I kept reciting Isaiah 41:10 – ‘Fear not.” I just kept reciting that prayer. You have to let your fears go and I tell that to my wrestlers still. It’s not easy to relax, but it’s very important if you want to do your best.”
Azevedo then mentioned San Marino’s club program – Titan Mercury Wrestling – which caters to young people from 6-18 years old who make the pilgrimage for Azevedo’s tutelage from as far north as Valencia and as far south as Orange County.
“I have to thank Andy Barth,” Azevedo said of the San Marino resident and former school board member. “He wanted to start a wrestling club and I thought I was retired. But here I am.”
TMWC is already paying huge dividends. Earlier this year, San Marino won their first Rio Hondo League championship since 1998, features three CIF champions for the first time in school history (Evan Wick, Xander Wick and Julian Flores – all freshmen) and Flores finished fifth in the state.
With eleven of his colleagues in attendance at last Tuesday’s meeting at the San Marino Center (It was City Club’s annual ‘Sports Night’) Azevedo explained how his position as a high school athletic coach is “transformational.”
“I have the position, power and platform to make a positive influence on my players,” he said before reading an inspirational treatise on coaching.
During the question-and-answer period, Azevedo explained how wrestling was a good fit “because they have weight classes. I could compete against opponents who are the same size. I would get lost in a football game.”
He also told the audience he had once lost nine pounds in six hours in order to “make weight” for a match by putting on a plastic suit and sitting in a sauna.
“And I don’t have a lot of extra pounds to lose,” he said, drawing a huge roar of laughter considering he could still probably do battle in the same weight class.
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