Fresno State thought it killed wrestling in 2006, just as the school thought it brought wrestling back to life this month.
Wrong, with more wrong on top.
Fresno State wrestling has been alive all of this time, and we didn’t even know it. It took the death of one its long-ago sons to show us Bulldogs wrestling never actually went away in a decade void of NCAA sanction.
Its heartbeat was detected Thursday in the Selma hospital emergency room, through the double doors in the back, down the hallway and to the right.
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That’s where we found the lifeless body of Gary Quintana, a cousin and best friend to me, and the living soul of Fresno State wrestling. He died of an apparent heart attack while leading practice at a local wrestling club, because of course he shot the leg to his last breath.
He was home-growing the next batch of Fresno State Bulldogs, and had been doing so before anyone knew there’d even be another batch.
It was in this cold hospital room that the ghosts of wrestling past proved to not be ghosts at all. There was retired Bulldogs coach Dennis DeLiddo, calling all his wrestling sons with the crushing news until his phone battery went black.
At Quintana’s bedside, you’d have seen the All-America Zinkin brothers, crying their last goodbyes. Same goes for country-mice college teammates Lalo Moz of Hanford and Terry Watts of Caruthers.
Next month, those alumni will watch the 2017-18 Fresno State wrestling team debut against Illinois at Save Mart Center, and only because hope-builders such as Quintana refused to let the dream die of non-renewal.
If new Bulldogs coach Troy Steiner is going to put singlets on top of podiums around here, it’s going to be with wrestlers who grow up to wrestle like Gary Quintana and one day coach like Quintana.
For a decade, Quintana coached one wave of local wrestlers after the next in the Bulldogs’ way of wresting – tenacious with an artisan soul. He took low-paying jobs to work the rooms at Clovis West, Clovis North and Bullard, because building a legacy of students mattered more than building an addition to his Clovis home.
He died Thursday as a middle school assistant in Clovis and part-time coach for a Selma wrestling club. His last breath was taken at a wrestling practice with his nephew, Tristan Lujan, in the knotted place of his hometown roots.
Quintana had no interest in grooming future Fighting Illini. Everything he did was to prepare local kids to win state titles and get scholarships to Fresno State, convinced the day would come when his alma mater would reconnect the wrestling dots.
If new Bulldogs coach Troy Steiner is going to put singlets on top of podiums around here, it’s going to be with wrestlers who grow up to wrestle like Quintana and one day coach like Quintana.
He’s a small-town wrestler from small-school Selma, who won a high school national title while wrestling for a program that practiced in the school cafeteria. He chose the local college and his family out on the country ranch over brand-name wrestling and Thanksgiving dinners away two time zones to the east.
Quintana chose to paint our Valley greener.
Remember that when the Bulldogs take the mat Nov. 17. Remember Quintana when one of our local kids sticks a nationally ranked opponent – maybe it will be freshman Chris De Loza, one of Quintana’s protégées. Or, Robert Garcia IV, the new kid from Selma.
Like Fresno State wrestling, maybe Quintana won’t be so gone, after all.
The columnist can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @bydavidwhite.
1. Fresno State baseball coach Mike Batesole is a die-often fan of the Oakland Raiders, so it’s all his fault the Raiders keep losing quarterback Derek Carr to injury. Carr was on the Fresno State campus for five years, and not once did Batesole pull him aside and teach him how to slide?
2. But seriously, we’re not asking Carr to go Jim Everett with a phantom sack. If he comes back from a back injury and plays Sunday, he has to knock off the open-field spin moves or linebackers are going to keep knocking him off the field. Live to play another down. Oakland’s season depends on it.
3. The winless 49ers’ answer to being winless is to cut inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman? Way to leave his rookie replacement without an All-Pro mentor during a lost season.