Sammy DeBartolo grew up viewing his father’s state wrestling championship awards in the family basement.
But the younger DeBartolo picked a different sport for his own title dreams.
DeBartolo, a junior at West Des Moines Dowling Catholic, favors golf.
“I always wanted to be a state champion in something, and I decided I had my best chance in golf,” Sammy said.
His father, Rick, was a two-time state wrestling champion. He won back-to-back crowns at 105 pounds in 1980 and ’81.
Rick introduced his son to wrestling when Sammy enrolled in a junior program at age 6. Sammy’s older brother, Ricky, who also golfed at Dowling, had a brief wrestling experience as well. The brothers didn’t like the wrestling room.
“They just said, ‘It’s hot in there and it smells,'” Rick said.
Sammy instead developed a lasting love for golf.
“When I was really young, my grandpa gave me a set of plastic clubs, and I started knocking it around,” Sammy said.
Sammy has become a strong competitor for Dowling. His team has finished third at the state fall golf meet each of the past two seasons.
DeBartolo finished 10th individually last year as a sophomore. He placed 23rd as a freshman.
Golf and wrestling are both individual sports, but of very different natures. In wrestling, it’s a 6-minute match; in golf, rounds can last five hours.
Father and son share a link in their high school athletic careers. Golf coach Ron Gray was an assistant wrestling coach at Dowling when Rick wrestled for the Maroons.
“I’m just happy to be around that long,” Gray said. “I’m teaching kids of kids I taught and coaching kids of kids I coached.”
The DeBartolos share an intense desire to win and improve, despite their different sports.
“My older son beat me for the first time when he was going into ninth grade,” Rick said. “So Sam’s goal was to beat me before he went into the eighth grade, which he did.”
That victory didn’t come easily. Sammy led his dad during one match, but Rick distracted his son and rallied to win. Sammy left the course in tears.
“We’re both pretty competitive,” Sammy said. “We really like to win.”
Sammy picked up his father’s strong work ethic. His dad taught him to practice when no one else is. That’s a lesson he learned from a coach.
Rick came home one day to find Sammy dressed in rain gear on a 40-degree day with his clubs ready. They played nine holes.
Sammy said he’ll probably take his dad’s approach when his children play sports years from now.
“If they get into any sport, I’d leave it up to them,” Sammy said. “My dad was always behind me 100 percent, no matter what I did.”