Buddy Doolen doesn’t say much when he’s sitting in the bleachers at a Mesa Mountain View wrestling meet.
There’s good reason for that.
“I don’t know what to yell. That’s why,” he said.
It’s basketball Doolen knows. He was Mesa Westwood’s coach for 25 years and long before that a starting guard for the University of Arizona. He figured he’d pass the game on to his sons and then his grandsons. But when grandkids Brock Doolen and Bowen Doolen were little and started going to camps run by Mountain View basketball coach Gary Ernst, there was just one problem.
The kids couldn’t play.
“They would trip over the lines when they ran onto the floor,” Buddy said. “My son finally thought they’d better get involved in another activity.”
That turned out to be wrestling, and this weekend, the two will compete in the Arizona Interscholastic Association state championship meet in Prescott Valley. Brock, a senior, is ranked No. 1 in the state at 182 pounds. Bowen, a sophomore, will wrestle in the 126-pound class.
Watching them, as he does every home and away meet, will be their grandfather, more anxious than he ever was on the basketball court.
“It’s very nerve-racking,” Buddy said. “It’s kind of like a fight one-on-one. It’s hard to watch, especially if you have family in it.”
Being the grandson of Buddy means your name is immediately recognizable. Brock said that whenever he introduces himself to someone, they ask, “Are you related to Buddy Doolen?”
“Everybody knows him,” Brock said.
It also means that Buddy, even if he doesn’t know a whole lot about wrestling, will pass along lessons he learned as a player and coach, lessons about character, discipline and sportsmanship.
“I always tell them that when they shake another coach’s or opponent’s hand to give them a good, firm grip and look them in the eye,” Buddy said. “If they don’t, I give them hell.”
That’s not an exaggeration.
“He always says to me, win or lose, be respectful,” Brock said. “Don’t lose your dignity.”
The kids aren’t the only ones listening to Buddy. First-year Mountain View coach Corey Anderson stayed at the Doolens’ “mother-in-law” quarters for 30 days last summer before he made the permanent move from New Mexico, where he lived. Although there’s not much in common between basketball and wrestling, a coach is a coach, and Anderson soaked in everything Buddy told him.
“We talked about an awful lot of things,” Buddy said. “How to handle kids. How to deal with parents. What to do with the administration. When to complain, when not to complain.”
Such is the bonus of living with a coaching legend.
“He’s the kind of man that when he speaks, I listen,” Anderson said. “He’s going to have insight, he’s going to have some nugget of wisdom. He also has a lot of perspective on Mesa Public Schools because he was here for years and years.
“He just gets it. He’s the kind of guy who will give you the shirt off his back and apologize for not being able to give you more. In the short time I’ve known him, I have unparalleled admiration for who he is and what he’s done.”
When Buddy sits in the stands this weekend, he’ll be, as usual, the quiet one. But his insides will be churning, not because he was a coach but because he’s a grandfather, and there’s nothing like seeing your kids – or grandkids – succeed.
And nothing as hard as watching them experience loss.
“It’s much easier to coach basketball,” Buddy said.
No matter what the outcome, when Brock and Bowen see their grandfather afterward, he’ll remind them that they should shake hands firmly and look their opponent into the eye. He’ll also repeat the same two words he says after every one of their matches: