Benefield: Elsie Allen wrestlers deliver rare pennant for school
It doesn’t look like much, that felt banner. It’s not huge, the font isn’t wild or even noteworthy. But the words across the pennant are, in fact, worthy of note: Redwood Wrestling Boys, Winter North Bay League 2019.
What does it mean? In the hands of Ricky Alcala and Alex Duerr, it means that the Elsie Allen High wrestling team is North Bay League-Redwood Division co-champs with Montgomery and Rancho Cotate. It’s the first time an Elsie wrestling team has won a league title and it’s only the sixth time in school history that any Elsie team has won a league pennant.
“I’m from Elsie, so I have experienced a lot of losses in sports history,” sophomore Oscar Sotelo said. “So that banner means a lot. People are like, ‘Oh it’s a league champ’ and they point at the wrestlers. Sometimes I say it too, because I’m proud.”
The school opened in 1994. In the ensuing years, just five teams have won a league champion banner: the 1998 and 1999 boys track teams, the 2014-15 boys basketball team and the 2016 and 2017 boys soccer teams.
“If you think about it, it’s kind of sad,” Alcala said.
Alcala teaches Spanish at Elsie. Assistant coach Duerr teaches P.E. They understand the school’s struggles to not only field teams, but to produce wins. They feel it. And they know the kids do, too.
“These kids deserve more. That feeling of accomplishment in a sport, when you work so hard at something and at the end of the day, all that hard work pays off, it does something to you,” Alcala said. “It’s sad that not that many teams have experienced that.”
Alcala, who wrestled at both UC Davis and at Indiana University, where he was an All-American, is a competitive person. He’s used to winning.
And he could feel that students at Elsie were not. At the start of the season, when he told student athletes they had the potential to win league, reaction was a kind of disbelief.
“It was like an unopened opened door for kids,” he said. “No one has ever experienced that, no one has seen it — it’s like they don’t believe it exists.”
But the team, young and filled with athletes who had never wrestled before, started to take shape. The coaches worked to make believers out of them.
When they lost a dual meet with Rancho, hopes were dashed. Then Rancho lost to Montgomery. When Elsie beat Montgomery, they forced a three-way tie for league supremacy and secured a piece of history.
Still it might have been all a bit abstract until first-year principal Gabriel Albavera showed up at the weight room this week and unfurled the pennant. The room ignited. One wrestler grabbed the pennant, held it to his shoulders and ran around the room as if wearing a cape, Alcala said.
“The boys went absolutely nuts,” Duerr said. “It was one of those great coaching moments.”
It’s been a long time in the making.
Four years ago, the wrestling roster had two boys and two girls. Total. By the end of the season, the two girls had quit, so Alcala ended the season with two athletes on this team.