After two years away, the annual Bert Mar Invitational will return home to Christopher High on Saturday. The wrestling tournament—now in its 10th year—was held at Independence High the last two years. The tournament is named after Bert Mar, the former South Valley Middle School wrestling coach who led the program on an unprecedented run of success.
“He was responsible for introducing wrestling to so many kids in Gilroy back in the day,” said Alecxis Lara, the former Christopher coach who is co-running the tournament this year with Cougars coach Julian Gomez. “He would have 80 to 100 kids on the wrestling team back in the day when there was only one high school (in Gilroy), and most of them ended up at Gilroy High School. He helped make Gilroy High a successful program in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s.”
Mar coached at South Valley from 1983 to 2007, winning a county championship in 23 of the 24 years in his tenure. The 73-year-old Mar also won a Northern California individual title wrestling for Gilroy High in 1964. Lara founded the Bert Mar Tournament 10 years ago, naming it after the longtime South Valley coach and teacher for being a role model to him and countless other youths who he came in contact with.
“When you bring up Bert Mar and wrestling and think about all he has done for the community, this is the perfect way to have his name immortalized,” Lara said in a previous Dispatch article. “His legacy will always be remembered and I feel honored that we can be a part of that.”
in the same article, Mar said, “I think everybody was put on this Earth for a reason, and mine was to work with kids, especially troubled kids. I try to make kids believe in themselves. Sometimes they go astray but we pull ’em back in. You can’t give up on a kid.”
Mar is a wrestling lifer and still attends dual meets and tournaments locally and beyond the South Valley area. He and his family drive to Bakersfield every year to attend the CIF State Championships. He’s only missed one state meet since 1978, and that was due to a death in the family. Mar said it’s always special to attend the tournament named after him, because it’s a reminder of the positive influence he had on others.
“It’s special because one of my student wrestlers (Lara) said I inspired him and others when I took these kids in, and that wrestling changed their life,” Mar said.
Mar knew when he was coaching, it wasn’t just about teaching kids how to wrestle. Rather, he used the sport as a tool to instill in kids discipline, focus and a way to overcome adversity. And he had a sacrificial mentality.
“As a coach I can tell you stories how I saw lives changed,” Mar said. “Some kids deal with (thoughts of) suicide, others need help in different ways such as having their clothes washed. I used to take clothes home and wash it for the students. I saw myself as a servant to the community. … I feel like I was a Pied Piper—make a kid believe in themselves and they’ll go through a door for you.”
The Bert Mar Invitational will feature approximately 30 teams, including tournament host Christopher and another local school in Sobrato High. Action gets underway on Saturday at 9 a.m., with the finals scheduled to start at approximately 3 p.m.