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EMPIRE WRESTLERS AT STATE TOURNMENT

106 POUNDS

Blake Fredrickson, Windsor

113 POUNDS

Trevor Bagan, Analy

126 POUNDS

Jose Fernandez III, Upper Lake

138 POUNDS

Jay Escamilla, Ukiah

152 POUNDS

Alex Garcia, Kelseyville

Trent Silva, Windsor

170 POUNDS

Nathan Tyrell, Ukiah

195 POUNDS

Frankie Pomilia, Ukiah

220 POUNDS

Nick Wycoff, Cardinal Newman

Tyler Winslow, Sonoma Valley

GLEN ELLEN — When Tyler Winslow was 6 years old, his father told his mother, “I have been a coach for many years and I have seen a lot of kids, but our son is special. Not just because he’s our son, but because he has a gift.”

“Cool,” Heidi Winslow replied, not entirely impressed. “Hopefully, he’ll like wrestling.”

He did. He does. And Tyler’s dad nailed the assessment. The younger Winslow, now a junior at Sonoma Valley High School, just conquered the 220-pound bracket at the North Coast Section wrestling championships. He’s the first Sonoma wrestler in eight years to take first at the NCS meet, and he’ll be competing Friday at the CIF state boys wrestling championships in Bakersfield.

But Winslow’s accomplishments are tinged with sadness. Roger “Deets” Winslow, Sonoma coaching legend and the man who ID’d Tyler as a prodigy so many years ago, will not be there to witness the event. He died in a freak boating accident 3½ years ago, at the age of 49.

“There’s a lot of memories that we could’ve had, that he would’ve been proud of me,” Tyler said, sitting at his dining table at the family home in Glen Ellen. “You think, like, I wish he could have been here for that, to experience that with me.”

Heidi has no doubt what Deets’ reaction would have been. “He’d be bawling like a baby,” she said.

Tyler will be in good hands at Bakersfield. His coach, Nico Saldana, wrestled under Deets Winslow at Sonoma, and the two had worked closely together before Winslow’s death. Oh, and Tyler has some resources in the family, too.

The Winslows are nothing short of wrestling royalty in Sonoma. Deets took over the Sonoma Valley program from his father, also named Roger Winslow. Between the two of them, they coached the Dragons for close to 40 years. Deets’ brother, Travis Winslow, wrestled at Sonoma. And so did Tyler’s older brother, Jordan.

One other tidbit: Roger competed before the CIF tournament existed, but Deets, Travis and Jordan all preceded Tyler at state.

“You didn’t want to be the Winslow who let that down,” Tyler said.

Tyler is bigger than his forebears. His brother, Jordan, went to state at 135 pounds. Grandpa Roger was somewhere around that size. Uncle Travis, Tyler believes, wrestled at 160.

Deets Winslow entered high school at 98 pounds, and eventually wrestled at 119. But man, he was tough.

And he loved the sport. Deets was young, just out of college, when he replaced his dad as Sonoma head coach. He worked as a psychiatric technician at the Sonoma Developmental Center. It’s where he met Heidi, who is still a rehab therapist there.

“That was my first real experience with wrestling, watching him coach,” Heidi Winslow said. “Then he would wrestle with me. And then I told him, ‘We need to have children, because this is not working for me.’”

So they did. Jordan came first. Then a daughter, Kayla, who raised money for improvements in the Sonoma Valley wrestling room as her senior project, and is now a freshman at Chico State. Then Tyler.

Heidi worked a few night shifts in those days. If she punched out and couldn’t find the rest of the family at home, she knew where to look: the wrestling room. Tyler’s earliest lessons were from his dad, in the front room of the house. By the time Tyler was 6, Deets was driving him around to tournaments.

EMPIRE WRESTLERS AT STATE TOURNMENT

106 POUNDS

Blake Fredrickson, Windsor

113 POUNDS

Trevor Bagan, Analy

126 POUNDS

Jose Fernandez III, Upper Lake

138 POUNDS

Jay Escamilla, Ukiah

152 POUNDS

Alex Garcia, Kelseyville

Trent Silva, Windsor

170 POUNDS

Nathan Tyrell, Ukiah

195 POUNDS

Frankie Pomilia, Ukiah

220 POUNDS

Nick Wycoff, Cardinal Newman

Tyler Winslow, Sonoma Valley

Deets Winslow fixated on wrestling, but he didn’t demand it of his children. Tyler discovered football in third grade (it’s still his first love; a middle linebacker, he was Sonoma County League defensive player of the year in 2017) and took a three-year break from the mat. His father was fine with it.

“He always told me, ‘Go do what you love,’” Tyler said.

The boy returned to wrestling in seventh grade and immediately started winning matches. Deets had stepped down as Sonoma’s varsity coach by then. In the summer of 2014, Tyler was preparing for eighth grade and Deets was thinking of taking over the junior high program. He wanted wrestlers to arrive at Sonoma Valley High with a better base of fundamentals.

When Deets headed to Lake Berryessa on Aug. 9 of that year, it was the most natural thing in the world. He loved being on the water as much as he loved being on the mat. When spotted driving his pickup truck around Sonoma, it was not uncommon to see a boat engine strapped down in the bed. The Winslows kept a houseboat on Berryessa, and would sometimes spend the weekend up there.

“I love the lake,” Tyler said. “Definitely feels like home up there.”

Tyler was on his way to Berryessa on Aug. 9 with Deets, Travis and a couple of their friends when his grandmother called and offered to take him shopping for school clothes. He changed course. He was in a store with his grandma when the news circulated.

“She got a phone call, and she started freaking out, like, ‘What? What?’” Tyler recalled. “I had no clue what was going on. There was something wrong, I could tell. She was driving home, and I kept asking her what’s wrong, and she didn’t really want to talk.”

When they got home, they were joined by Heidi and the police. The story was almost unbelievable. It was early evening when Deets Winslow, an experienced boater, was steering his pickle-fork-style boat through a section of the lake called The Narrows. The vessel spontaneously jerked hard in one direction, then the other — a Napa County Sheriff’s investigation later pointed to a failure in one of the engines — and threw Winslow into the water.

He is presumed to have been gravely injured by the boat’s propeller. It took the Napa County Sheriff’s marine and dive team more than a month to retrieve his body.

A cascade of grief and love washed over Sonoma. Neighbors and friends brought dinners for three months. More than 1,500 people attended Deets’ memorial service. Many of them were from the Sonoma County wrestling clique, a tight-knit group that now mourned the loss of one of its finest.

“I still get it today,” Tyler said. “People, I have no clue who they are, they’re just from a random school, and they’re like, ‘I loved your dad.’ Definitely, he had an impact.”

Sonoma Valley changed the name of its biggest wrestling competition to the Deets Winslow Memorial Wrestling Tournament. Previously known as the Valley of the Moon Classic, the tournament had been started by Roger Winslow. Tyler has taken first place at the tournament each of the past three years.

Tyler wrestled at 160 pounds as a freshman, and 170 pounds as a sophomore. This year he jumped to 202, then decided to wrestle at 220 for the section meet. He and Saldana reckoned his chances would be better at the higher weight.

But Winslow doesn’t actually weigh 220 pounds. In Bakersfield, he is likely to face opponents who run 20 pounds heavier.

“You can’t do some of the moves that you can do on kids that are my size,” Winslow said. “But I just have to use speed to my advantage, because I’m faster than most people.”

Heidi Winslow also credits Tyler’s quiet focus. “He figures it out,” is how she put it.

No doubt that focus will be challenged at times this weekend. Tyler is going up against some of the top wrestlers in the state. And it’s still hard for him to button his chinstrap without thinking of his father, and the shared moments they lost. But if Deets’ absence has stolen something from Tyler, it has strengthened him, too.

“My dad’s death, just knowing that I could get through that, there’s not gonna be anything harder than that for me to get through,” Winslow said.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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