Pumas on the Prowl

Nicholas Medina, 8, and Tony Felix, 7, wrestle during practice

A dream of life-long Gilroy resident Alecxis Lara has come to
fruition in the form of the Gilroy Pumas, a new wrestling club,
which provides members from ages of 5 to 18 an instructional and
competitive outlet for wrestling.
There are different events in history that people tend to look back on and consider turning points. Some are on a larger scale, and others hit on a much narrower scope closer to home.

Decades from now, individuals who learn about the rich history of wrestling in Gilroy will find a new chapter written in the record books, which chronicles a change in the city beginning in 2010.

In August of 2009 the doors of Christopher High opened, adding another large high school in Gilroy. And now, as of February, there is also more than one wrestling club in town.

Both institutions, will (and have already begun to) change the landscape of athletics in Gilroy, adding another dimension, sparking rivalry, yet most important, opening up more opportunity for youth get involved in sports.

A dream of life-long Gilroy resident Alecxis Lara has come to fruition in the form of the Gilroy Pumas, a new wrestling club, which provides members from ages of 5 to 18 an instructional and competitive outlet for wrestling.

Perhaps this change will only be a small blip in a town that has embraced wrestling as one of the ways it is defined; at least that’s what Lara, 27, envisions – an easy transition to the next phase in Gilroy wrestling.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to start my own club,” said Lara, who is also the head coach of the Christopher High wrestling team. “I’m lucky enough to have the (Christopher High) administration’s support in letting me use the facilities and giving me permission to make it happen.”

For years the Gilroy Hawks – Lara was a Hawk and a Mustang – was the mainstay in Gilroy, a feeder program of sorts for the Gilroy High wrestling team. It was the program to turn to for top-notch teaching, churning out section and state champions handfuls at a time.

The path usually led from the Hawks to one of the three middle schools – South Valley, Brownell and Solorsano, where students would not only wrestle for their middle school but also continue to train with the Hawks – then to GHS.

There is a choice now.

“The Gilroy Hawks wrestling club is one of the main reasons of my personal wrestling success, as well as it helping make Gilroy High one of California’s top wrestling programs,” Lara said. “I want to learn from their success and help wrestlers learn high-level technique that will help them become competetive wrestlers for their regular

season.”

Lara said the Pumas is an open club, yet will be utilized as a vehicle to encourage kids to attend Christopher High and be a part of the wrestling tradition he and his coaching staff is establishing. And similar to the Hawks, the Pumas is essentially a feeder program, preparing members for a prep career as Cougars.

“It gives middle schoolers the chance to see what type of program we have and our coaching styles before they decide where to go,” Lara said.

Long-time GHS wrestling mastermind Armando Gonzalez, who led the Mustangs to seven consecutive Central Coast Section championships from 2002-09, stepping down at the conclusion of the 2009 season and relinquishing the program to his nephew Greg Varela, is now bringing his experience and prowess to the Pumas and Cougars assistng Lara, in hopes, he says, of broadening the realm of options for kids who are interested in wrestling.

“I had been with the Hawks for all these years,” Gonzalez said. “It got to the point where I was ready to hand over the program to (Varela) and he is doing a wonderful job with those kids. The dynamics have changed in the city of Gilroy. There is another high school now. It’s a start up program so I decided to come over here and assist Alecxis.

“The theory has always been to do what’s best for Gilroy wrestling. So what I am doing here now is what I think is best.”

A clear divide could be formed between the two programs. Ultimately, though, the consensus among at least the Pumas’ coaching staff is that although a rivalry is eminent, the focus must remain on the sport of wrestling and the city of Gilroy.

“That can definietely be an issue,” Gonzalez said. “The program across town is a top-five program in the state every year. There’s no such thing as a friendly rivalry, so one day maybe there will be a rivalry between the two schools but it will only help lift Gilroy High to a national level and Christopher High to a CCS and state level. When that day happens I will be the happiest guy in town.”

Keeping the interest of the sport alive and well is one of the main goals Lara and his crew are striving to achieve.

“All of that stuff has to be put aside,” said GHS alum and current Pac-10 champion wrestler at Cal State Fullerton Adin Duenas, who volunteered his time during his Spring Break to assist Lara at Pumas practice. “It is about the kids. I was a Hawk and I loved being a Mustang. Now that Gilroy High is on the map, it’s time to help Christopher get on the map.”

The Pumas currently have 45 members, a list that continues to grow.

“I want to offer the town another option to be part of a positive program where we want to develop not only better wrestling skills in our students but also mentor them in developing better life, moral and character skills,” Lara said.

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