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Two locals pin down California Wrestling Hall of Fame honors

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Two wrestling legends being honored by the California Wrestling Hall of Fame agree on their fondest career memories — the people. The teammates, the coaches, the friendships made along the way.

Brett Colombini, the 175-pound state wrestling champion at Ukiah High School in 1990, and Jake Fitzpatrick, a longtime Sonoma County wrestling coach and mentor, will be honored by the statewide hall of fame in May during a gala banquet in Sacramento.

Colombini is one of nine inductees into the 23-year-old organization and Fitzpatrick is among 11 to receive Lifetime Service Awards.

“It’s humbling to be recognized at that level with so many people who’ve done so much over the years,” said Fitzpatrick, who retired from teaching in 2013 but is in his 35th year as wrestling coach at Santa Rosa Junior College.

“To be selected to that small group is awesome. It’s really a validation of your life’s work.”

Colombini went on to become an All-American at the University of Minnesota, the Big 10 wrestling powerhouse that became the nation’s top-ranked program his junior year.

“The thing that I remember the most is the great teammates, incredible coaches, all the adversity,” he said. “Little old Ukiah going into the California state championships my senior year. Pretty darned good for a little school.”

They are only the second and third honorees from the North Bay, joining Jerry Aikman, who in 2010 was given a lifetime award marking a 42-year coaching career at Ukiah.

Fitzpatrick wrestled at Sonoma State University in the early 1970s, graduating from the teachers’ credentialing program. He began coaching at Santa Rosa Middle School, then worked as head coach at Piner High School from 1978 to 1984.

He then took over as head coach at SRJC, where he continues to run the wrestling program 35 years later.

His teams have won seven conference championships and compiled a 191-129-5 dual-meet record. Fitzpatrick has coached four state champions and 29 All-Americans.

In 2006, he was recognized with a coaching excellence award from the National Wrestling Coaches Association.

The relationships he’s built with his athletes have left a lasting impression on him.

“People like David Montano,” Fitzpatrick said. “I started coaching him when he was a sophomore in high school at Piner. Then he moved to the JC and he was on my first team there. He still calls two or three times a year to check in. It’s always ‘Hey coach, what’s going on?’

“Those are the kinds of things that really mean the most,” he said. “It’s nice to pile up a bunch of wins and have these accolades, but it’s the really the people that make the difference in the end.”

After graduating from Minnesota with a communications degree, Colombini moved to Southern California and became an investment banker. He has since become an entrepreneur and has started several businesses, and is now back in Ukiah as a partner in a cannabis and CBD company.

He has fond memories of his teammates and coaches, including Aikman, and said his family has been his foundation for success in wrestling.

“My dad asked me what I wanted to do and I said I want to be a state champion,” Colombini said. “He said, ‘Ok, let me show you what it looks like.’ ”

They drove to Fresno to watch the state tournament.

“I was looking at guys with muscles coming out of their earlobes,” he said. “I thought, ‘If this is what it’s going to take, I’ve got a lot of work to do.’ That was smart on my dad, because all I had to do was see it. It’s a work ethic. … I was willing to do anything and everything to make it happen.”

The pair will be honored during a reception and dinner banquet on May 11 at the Elks Lodge in Sacramento. Proceeds from the $70 tickets benefit the Hall of Fame. For information, visit the website at www.californiawrestlinghalloffame.com.

You can reach staff writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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