South Valley to name gym after legendary wrestling coach Mar

Bert Mar, center, stands with Gilroy Unified School District superintendent Debbie Flores and board member James Pace during a May 7 board meeting where it was revealed the gym at South Valley Middle School would be named after the long-time coach. 

GILROY—As Bert Mar walked the grounds at South Valley Middle School, he was met with big smiles and warm greetings at every turn. Cars that whizzed by the school turned around when they saw him, the drivers eager to say hello. Mar recognized each instantly and answered them with a bright smile, a wave and a unique nickname he’d undoubtedly given them several years ago. He’s a familiar face in Gilroy—and for good reason.
Mar coached wrestling at South Valley for 27 years, spending 25 as head coach, and led a Tigers squad that was undefeated at dual meets during his tenure. The team saw 111 section champions and 82 county champions under his leadership. Mar’s impact has earned him the title of Gilroy’s “living legend” and this summer South Valley will enshrine him on its campus by naming the gymnasium after him.
“It means a lot to me because I grew up in this town way back in the 50s,” Mar said, noting the campus is the original site of Gilroy High School, which he graduated from in 1965. “I loved my job. I never had a dull moment.”
Mar had all the capabilities of coaching at the high school level—or higher—but chose to spend his career with the Tigers. He called coaching junior high wrestlers his “calling.”
Mar never cut a wrestler from his squad, despite having 146 turn out to practice one year. Only the strong willed survived his practices as most would drop off after coming out a few times. But if they felt like part of the team for even a moment, Mar was happy.
“I loved coming to work,” he said. “These kids are knuckleheads, they’re all over the place, but if you learn how to tap into that you become like a Pied Piper—they’ll follow you.”
Mar, who retired in 2008, also coached soccer, track and flag football and served as the Tigers’ athletic director, too. He was an accomplished athlete in his own right and won a Northern California State Wrestling Championship in 1964. He competed in football, baseball and track at Gilroy High, but it was wrestling, he said, that always came naturally to him.
“I just had a wrestler’s body because I worked out in the fields and that develops you,” Mar said. “(I had) a strong work ethic and it made my body real strong.”
His passion and dedication to wrestling rubbed off on his athletes and they bought into his program. His lessons went beyond teaching takedowns and cradles, however, Mar taught his wrestlers about life.
Alecxis Lara, the head wrestling coach at Christopher High, wrestled for Mar at South Valley in 1997 and said he was more than a coach; he was a mentor. If a wrestler was struggling academically or had discipline issues, Mar was there to take him under his wing. He was tough on them, Lara said, but in the best possible way.
“You wanted to win for him and if you didn’t win, you felt like you let him down,” the Christopher High coach said. “We all looked up to him so much…There’s no one else in this town that’s more deserving of having that gym named after them.”
The effort to name the gym after Mar was spearheaded by Jess Varela, the father of Gilroy High School head wrestling coach Greg Varela. Jess has known Mar since the days when his own son wrestled for him at South Valley and said he had a huge hand in shaping the successful coach Greg has come to be.
But the championships and accolades were only a small fraction of why the Varela family wanted the Tigers’ gym to be named after Mar.
Jess said Mar has devoted so much of himself to wrestling community and he still continues giving. The long-time Tigers coach has chipped in financially, helping wrestlers attend tournaments when they couldn’t afford it.
And that’s not all. 
When Mar heard two Mustangs were heading to York College in Nebraska, he bought them cold weather gear and clothing so they would be prepared for the state’s harsh climate. He’s given Gilroy’s wrestlers all the mental, emotional and material tools needed to become successful in whatever they pursue and now, they want to return the favor.
“To me, he’s just an all-around good guy,” Jess said. “Now that he’s retired from teaching, it’s a real fitting tribute to him. That’s his gym, that’s his baby.”
In order to take the next step of crafting the plaque bearing Mar’s name, Gilroy Unified School District must raise $3,000. The goal is to hang the plaque before the 2015-2016 school year begins and the district has set a June 30 deadline for donations. A GoFundMe site has been set up to accept donations online. If you’d like to donate by check, send it to Lucy Huerta, Business Services Administrative Assistant and make it payable to Gilroy Unified School District. Checks should be noted that the donation is for the Bert Mar facilities naming project.
To donate to the Bert Mar Gymnasium Project, visit the GoFundMe page here: gofundme.com/w644cdg or send a check to Lucy Huerta, Business Services Administrative Assistant and make it payable to Gilroy Unified School District. Checks should be noted that the donation is for the Bert Mar facilities naming project. 

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