In 1990, when Scott Glabb became the wrestling coach at Santa Ana High School, a few clues to his future seemed obvious.
First, he was the only applicant for the job. Second, for two-day matches, his entire team would show up on Fridays, when wrestling meant missing school, but only half the team would turn out on Saturdays – when wrestling meant missing Saturdays. A third clue was the score of an early, first-season loss – 72 to 0.
“And if the score wasn’t a sign of my destiny,” Glabb recalls, “then watching my heavyweight chase his opponent with a folding chair, after he lost, was.” Glabb considered leaving after the first year, but somehow decided to stay. It was a good move. It turned out those clues were misleading.
So, yeah, this is one of those Cinderella stories about how a young coach gains experience and perspective. He builds a Santa Ana Saints wrestling program that once was lucky to recruit 30 stragglers a year into a powerhouse that annually lands more than 90 dedicated wrestlers. What’s more, his team hasn’t lost a dual-meet in league competition in 18 years.
This is a story about sports, but it’s not a sports story. It’s a coaching story.
My three children encountered a variety of coaches over the years. Most just wanted to see what my kids could do for their teams. Far fewer looked to see what they could do for my kids.
Glabb admits he started out in the first category. He’s just published a book about his early experiences, “A Saint in the City: Coaching At-Risk Kids to be Champions.”
“Many young coaches, including myself, place all their value and self-worth into winning,” he writes.
“They get caught up in the wins and losses and forget that they are there for the kids.”
Originally, Glabb believed discipline creates winners. If a kid were serious about wrestling, he would come to school and prove it. No messing around, no absences, no leaving practices early.
“I would have kicked everyone off the team.”
So his second year, he adjusted his stance.
He got to know his wrestlers, letting them know he cared about them as much as he cared about their wrestling. He drove students to and from school, took them home for the night, or bailed them out of trouble. He introduced many to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.”It’s about spending time. At the end of practice, everybody is gone. I stay.”
The story is about a coach who teaches students to wrestle – with the challenges in their lives, and with an opponent on the mat.
It’s Glabb’s story, but it’s not all about him. Center stage are profiles of Saints wrestlers and reflections about what they taught Glabb.
Fernando Serratos, class of 1997, followed his friends into tagging. He had a smart mouth and an attitude. But by senior year he was the first two-time CIF champion in the history of Santa Ana High School.
Married now, with three children, Serratos sells wrestling supplies – and he coaches wrestling.
“Reading the book brought back a lot of memories. Where would I be if it weren’t for Scott or my commitment to wresting?”
How does Serratos coach?
“I’m in their lives.”
Glabb says Serratos taught him the power of wrestling to transform lives.
In the book Froilan Gonzalez, class of 1998, writes candidly about gangs and dealing drugs to get money for wrestling shoes. Eventually he chose wrestling over the streets, he says, because it gave him more success.
Married with two sons, Gonzalez coaches today with Glabb. He recalls:
“I needed guidance. I was looking for it in any place, with anybody I could find… Wrestling gave me that. It gave me identity, but it taught me about character.”
Glabb says Gonzalez taught him that some guys who don’t have obvious talent can shape themselves into champions.
Much has improved in the school and its neighborhoods since Scott started his book.
Three years after Glabb arrived, the Saints earned their first league championship. Wrestling at Santa Ana High today is a well respected program with seven coaches and a trainer.
Glabb wears a chunky black 2008 CIF Division IV dual-meet championship ring that is hard to overlook. The Saints just earned their 12th title.
Winning, he admits, feels good. Still:
“You have to be from a different cut to come here and coach. It might take you a very long time to win.”
Glabb refuses to cut anyone from the team at tryouts because potential isn’t always obvious.
“You see a kid come who is clumsy and awkward with no hope to be the best. What happens? He has desire and determination.”
Team sports fill a vital role, not only for kids at risk. Wrestlers compete individually, but every student could use a coach and a team cheering from the sidelines, like family.
It’s not the sweet suburban life Glabb originally envisioned for himself. Some of his wrestlers still face tall disadvantages, and the Saints still have no parent booster organization. Nevertheless, he feels blessed.
“You have to understand you are really changing lives at these schools … because they are involved in a sport and they have coaches who care about them.”
Ask Glabb to define “coach,” and it takes some thought:
“Someone who has a genuine care and concern for the well being of his athletes … helping them become better in a sport but also as human beings.”
Notice, not a word about winning.
Scott Glabb’s book is available online from ASaintintheCity.com or Amazon.com. He will be signing copies from 5 – 7 p.m. on Feb. 23 at Libreria Martinez bookstore, 1200 N. Main St. in Santa Ana, and on March 27 from 2-4 p.m. at Borders, 2493 Park Ave. in Tustin.
Contact the writer: [email protected]