A Dedication Like No Other
It was approaching the end of another school day and like most kids his age, Rudy Guevara couldn’t wait for the bell to ring — but not for the reason you would think.
“Once that bell rang, I’d get out of school and run across the street and watch all of the (Gonzales High School) teams practice,” Guevara said.
Guevara grew up in the small southern Monterey County town of Gonzales, the wine capital of the region with his love for sports developing at an early age.
“I used to be a little gym rat,” Guevara said. “I grew up without a father and a very ill mom. I was basically on my own at a very early age.”
That approach stuck with Guevara over the next four-plus decades as the wiry-built wrestler from Gonzales transformed into a conference champion at San Jose State before transitioning to a highly-successful coaching career at Santa Teresa High School and on the U.S. national staff.
When Guevara was in junior high, he joined the wrestling club that Gonzales High wrestling head coach Frank Hankins oversaw.
Hankins remained the coach at Gonzales when Guevara joined the wrestling team as a freshman, but then left for Hartnell before the start of Guevara’s sophomore season.
The program kept on churning even with the departure of Hankins as Gonzales was known to attract candidates far and wide for its wrestling vacancy.
Guevara would have two more coaches (Mike Nissen and Art Chavez) in his final three years at Gonzales, but the constant transition never fazed the acclaimed wrestler.
Nissen was an NCAA champion and third place finisher during his time wrestling at the University of Nebraska. Chavez was an NCAA All-American out of San Francisco State and also a freestyle and Greco national champion.
Guevara also played varsity football and baseball for the Spartans, but walked away from baseball in his senior year in order to give him more time to focus on wrestling to prepare for a collegiate career.
The Road to San Jose State
A Dedication Like No Other
The colleges came knocking in the likes of programs such as: UCLA, Stanford, Air Force, Navy, Cal State Fullerton and Bakersfield as well as San Jose State.
Guevara was locked in a recruiting war with UCLA as the Bruins were also courting junior college wrestler Steve Siroy.
The Bruins wound up going with Siroy and Guevara landed in San Jose with the Spartans – a decision Guevara said ended up being for the best.
“It was close to home, my mom and I were very close,” Guevara said. “I’m a momma’s boy and I wanted to be close to her and my family. San Jose State expressed interest for me the whole time. I ended up coming to San Jose State which was probably the best move in my life.”
Guevara and Siroy weren’t done crossing paths, however.
In his first meet as a member of the Spartans wrestling program, Guevara ended up taking on Siroy – and won.
“I didn’t even know it was him,” Guevara said. “Some of my teammates ended up wrestling against him in junior college. They didn’t tell me until after the match.”
Once Guevara found out he’d just beat the guy UCLA recruited over him, emotions set in.
“It was a motivational thing,” Guevara said of the victory. “He was Mr. Everything to them (UCLA).”
Guevara would wrestle Siroy another time in college and then a couple of times for the Junior Olympic trials. Guevara never lost to him.
“He was tough,” Guevara said. “But I just had something on him to where I wanted to beat him bad every time.”
Planting the seeds of a future Olympic coach
A Dedication Like No Other
After his heralded career as a Spartan in which Guevara was a three-time Pacific Coast Athletic Association champion (Guevara won the 118-pound division as a sophomore) and posted a 106-28 record, wrestling was far from over.
Guevara landed a job at Santa Teresa High School in San Jose at the age of 28. While coaching at the high school level, Guevara was also involved in coaching as an assistant for San Jose State and on the national level for the United States.
After a handful of years of helping at the lower level of the U.S. national program, Guevara was rewarded for his time and effort with a spot on the Olympic coaching staff for 1988. When Guevara received the news of the opportunity, he was coaching wrestlers at a summer camp.
“It’s the pinnacle of your life,” Guevara said as he reflected on the Olympic coaching opportunity. “I was working a summer camp at San Jose State and somebody said there was a phone call for me in the office.”
Once Guevara hung up the phone and made his way back toward the camp, jubilation took over.
“I went in and just told everybody,” Guevara said. “I go yelling into the camp and all of the kids are looking at me.”
The emotions running through Guevara’s mind that summer afternoon wasn’t even close to the emotions he felt as he stepped into the Olympic Stadium in Seoul, South Korea.
“Just to walk into that stadium for the opening ceremonies with 80,000 people there, it’s hard to explain,” Guevara said. “There’s nothing like it.”
After the Olympics in 1988, Guevara remained involved with the U.S. national staff and would help coach young wrestlers coming through the system. Over the years, Guevara encountered numerous top-notch wrestlers – including Brock Lesnar and Daniel Cormier.
Even at the point in time when Lesnar made his way through the system, Guevara knew bigger things were to come of the gifted athlete.
“He was just a beast,” Guevara said. “You would stand next to him and he’s just so big. He would just overpower people.”
Guevara remained on the U.S. national staff until 2003, but started cutting back on his travel for the organization around ’97 so he could have more time developing his wrestlers at Santa Teresa.
“I wanted to concentrate more on my high school team,” Guevara said. I felt I was neglecting my team at Santa Teresa, because I was just gone a lot. Every weekend I’d get on a plane and do a (wrestling) clinic here and a clinic there.”
“I wanted to try and come down to earth a little more and work with the local kids and live a normal life.”
A retirement in name only from wrestling
A Dedication Like No Other
Guevara retired from his position as coach of the Santa Teresa wrestling team around the same time he left the U.S. national staff back in 2003.
Even in retirement, Guevara, who turns 60 in July, still makes wrestling an integral part of his life. He can now be found officiating high school matches and training privately with current high school wrestlers and mixed martial artists in San Jose.
“I just wanted to continue to help the sport and to help kids,” Guevara said. “I knew I wanted to coach when I was in high school. I looked over at my coach and told him ‘I want to do that someday,’ because I loved the sport so much.”
It was his love for the sport that has changed countless lives over the years and earned him a “Lifetime Service to Wrestling” honor from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, California Chapter this past May.
“It’s the second best day of my career,” Guevara said with the Olympic assistant coaching gig taking the cake. “I’m a very humble person and to have people wherever you walk into a gym, they know who you are. To have my family, ex-athletes and coaches I’ve worked with over the years in one room, I was on cloud nine.”
One of Guevara’s former pupils, Bryan Lindsey, said Guevara not only played an important part in his success as a wrestler, but a businessman as well.
“He helped me a lot with the determination and focus that he instilled in me as a person,” Lindsey said. “He was focused on making sure we were all well-rounded as athletes by making sure we were involved in the community and that our grades were strong.”
Lindsey who is now president at Sunset Station Casino in Las Vegas — which is owned by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta who also own the Ultimate Fighting Championship — has been able to keep wrestling a part of his life even with his hectic schedule.
Lindsey is the vice president of Ultimate Alliance, a wrestling organization that consists of the National High School Coaches Association, the National United Wrestling Association for Youth and the Rocky Mountain Nationals. These three organizations joined together in hopes to “establish a foundation for athletes, coaches and programs to support wrestling from the youth level right through the professional ranks.”
With Lindsey working closely with the Fertitta brothers in the casino industry, he was able to secure the backing of the UFC for an annual wrestling tournament the Ultimate Alliance puts on in Las Vegas, The Ultimate Wrestling Championship.
Lindsey was in attendance as Guevara received recognition for his contributions in the sport of wrestling and said it was well-deserved.
“As a coach and a role model, he was the guy that set me on the right path,” Lindsey said. “I owe a lot of my success to him.”
Recognition from his second home
A Dedication Like No Other
On June 2, Guevara was presented a commendation by the city of San Jose for his “accomplishments and contributions as a teacher, mentor, counselor, case manager and coach.”
This honor came as a bit of a surprise for Guevara who was sitting in a San Jose Chili’s reading over the 2014 National Wrestling Hall of Fame program as he was a couple of months away from receiving his award.
That’s when a lady who saw Guevara reading over the program approached and started a conversation. Guevara shared his story about his wrestling and teaching background and it was at that moment where it was brought up that he could be recognized by the city of San Jose.
Guevara was contacted not long after by a member Vice Mayor Rose Herrera’s office and that’s when the wheels on the latest honor began churning.
“The banquet I knew was coming a year ago,” Guevara said. “This one here (with the city of San Jose) was a little different and I was very honored to receive this. San Jose is a great place. I give a lot of credit to San Jose for what this city has done for me and it’s my second home.”
At the commendation event was another of Guevara’s former Santa Teresa wrestlers, Matt Cano.
Cano — who went on to wrestle at Stanford and received a bachelor’s and master’s in civil engineering — has worked with the city of San Jose since 1999 and is currently an Interim Assistant Director for the Parks and Recreation Department.
Cano was not only happy to see the city of San Jose recognize Guevara for all that he’s done, but was more than thrilled that his former coach finally got his moment at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame banquet in Menlo, California on May 2.
“Rudy’s dedicated his life to this sport and it’s really awesome that the hall of fame has recognized him for that,” Cano said. “It takes a lot of sacrifices and dedication to be a high school wrestling coach and to do it in the manner in which Rudy did.”
With the recent recognition at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and the addition of the commendation from the City of San Jose, Guevara has his sights set on two final honors.
“Now all I need is to get in the San Jose State Hall of Fame and Gonzales High’s Hall of Fame,” Guevara said with a hearty chuckle. “I’m working from the top down (with these honors).
Quinn Robinson is a sports reporter for The Salinas Californian. Contact: email@example.com or 754-4264. Twitter: @QRob_On_Sports.