2016-10-07 / Schools

Growth and grappling

Sinaloa Sabers learn confidence on the mat
By Michael Aushenker


LEARNING THE FUNDAMENTALS—Sinaloa student Jeremy Persky, left, wrestles against a competing middle-schooler during a recent match. Sinaloa is the only middle school in Simi Valley with a dedicated wrestling program. 
Courtesy of Richard Carrillo LEARNING THE FUNDAMENTALS—Sinaloa student Jeremy Persky, left, wrestles against a competing middle-schooler during a recent match. Sinaloa is the only middle school in Simi Valley with a dedicated wrestling program. Courtesy of Richard Carrillo When it comes to wrestling, Richard Carrillo sees more than its physical aspects.

“For me, wrestling is not just a sport,” he said. “It’s a philosophy. It gives me enough confidence to pursue the things I want to pursue. The fact that it is so directly applicable to life speaks to me.”

Carrillo, 43, perhaps best known since 2005 as the head wrestling coach at Royal High School, is now in his second year of also coaching a team at Sinaloa Middle School.

“ This program is something that is special to Sinaloa,” said Diana Janke, principal of the school. “Rich is the type of coach who wants to volunteer his time and energy to do something positive for kids.


FULL CONTACT—Sinaloa’s Lorenzo Landhan, left, goes head-to-head with a student from a competing school in a recent match. 
Courtesy of Richard Carrillo FULL CONTACT—Sinaloa’s Lorenzo Landhan, left, goes head-to-head with a student from a competing school in a recent match. Courtesy of Richard Carrillo “We currently have 46 boys and girls grades 6 through 8 participating. That’s huge.”

After much resistance from the Simi Valley Unified School District, Carrillo said, he successfully brought the wrestling program back to Sinaloa two years ago. Many SVUSD programs, including middle school wrestling, were dropped in the 1990s, the coach said.

“I don’t know (why the programs were cut). I wasn’t teaching at that time,” he said. “I don’t think it was budget reasons.”

Even as he was experiencing success as Royal High’s wrestling coach, Carrillo had spent five years trying to restore a wrestling program at the middle schools, but to no avail.

“(The district) didn’t want to change anything,” he said. “ Not just for sports, just a lot of stuff. I had to

Carrillo be patient and coach wait.” Sinaloa His patience paid off.

After Superintendent Jason Peplinski came on board as chief of schools in 2014, Carrillo said, SVUSD’s governing body became more receptive to his ideas.

“I made a presentation to the school board and district. Their faces lit up, they were so excited.”

Carrillo said he initially tried selling Hillside Middle School on a wrestling program, but the campus chose not to institute it, primarily because the school had recently aligned its curriculum with performing and technical arts magnet Santa Susana High School.

The coach said he then tried to create one team for all middle schoolers in the district, including those at Valley View who might want to participate, but the Ventura County Middle School Wrestling League, in which the Saber team competes, would not allow it.

Leading by example

Todd Wilson, Sinaloa’s assistant wrestling coach, said the students respect how Carrillo leads by example.

The enthusiasm and effort of the Sinaloa wrestlers has been fantastic,” Wilson said.

“For the kids who stay with wrestling at Sinaloa, having two years of fundamental moves under their belt is very helpful when they compete on the high school team.”

At Carrillo’s alma mater, where he’s been coaching since 2004, the Royal Highlanders thrive as one of Ventura County’s top high school wrestling teams. Carrillo led the RHS wrestling team as captain when he was student, graduating in 1991.

In recent history, Royal has won multiple league championships, including a record eight consecutive titles from 2004, when Carrillo was still assistant coach, to 2011. At the high school, he works alongside assistant coaches Steven Little and Scott Duncan and athletic trainer Kelly Olson.

“However you want to define success—happy or rich or whatever—(wrestling helps) to develop that sort of grit,” the head coach said, elaborating on his philosophy. “The character building, it’s second to none.”

Enthusiasm is contagious

Viktor Budrys, whose son Lukas, 12, is a wrestler on the Sinaloa team, said he was surprised when his son informed him in August he wanted to take up the sport.

But, Budrys said, he realized why after meeting Carrillo during Back to School Night last month.

“His enthusiasm for the sport was very contagious,” he said of the coach. “When Rich Carrillo talked about wrestling, I got excited about wrestling (as) I knew very little about this sport.”

Following his seventh-grader’s participation at the Ice Breaker tournament at Isbell Middle School in Santa Paula Sept. 15, Budrys discussed the bout with his son, who was taken down in his second match before rising back up.

“I said, ‘That takedown looked painful.’ He said, ‘Yeah, it stung a bit but I had to get back and continue the match.’ I enjoyed hearing from (Lukas) that he didn’t want to quit.”

Sinaloa seventh-grader Aidan Hansen thought Carrillo’s own wrestling experience was important.

“If you are stuck on something because someone is defending the move you are doing, Coach Carrillo will tell you what to do because he has maybe been in that situation,” said Aidan, 12, who’s been wrestling since age 5.

At Sinaloa, safety is always a top priority and the coed teams are open to all, Carrillo said.

“We have several autistic kids (at Sinaloa). Any kid that wants to wrestle can wrestle, whether they can afford it or not,” said the coach, who recently spent $700 of his own money on equipment— much to the dismay of his wife, Heather, he added, half-joking.

Carrillo said he gets a lot of satisfaction from coaching at both the middle and high school levels.

Royal High naturally holds a special place in Carrillo’s heart: It’s where he met and later proposed to Heather. The couple now have four sons: Aidan, 15, who wrestles with the Highlanders; Gabriel, 13, who grapples for Sinaloa; Mason, 10; and Cael, 6.

That said, Carrillo gets a kick out of the contrast between his junior high and high school grapplers.

“The middle school is a lot of fun. They’re more open, susceptible to positive influences,” he said. “(Royal wrestlers) are a little bit more serious and competitive. They want to go to big tournaments and do some traveling.”

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