Dunsmuir High School Wrestling
● By Gary VanDeWalker
Photo: Jimmy Palmer
On ancient caves in France are drawings of a sport enduring through time to occupy the gyms of Northern California. The sport was a centerpiece in the first Olympic games in Greece. Just as the soldiers of Homer’s Iliad competed, the art of wrestling has passed through the history of Egypt and Babylon to the small town of Dunsmuir and the school’s coach, Robert Wallace.
Wallace’s father was a wrestler. When the future coach was 8, he began to train and compete. The Enterprise High School program provided the boy with training and competition. “My father served as my first coach,” Wallace says. “Hardly a tournament passed by in which I did not place.” His first tournament, he would face his younger brother for a fight between first and second. He took first. Wallace would often wrestle in two to three weight classes at once. The Redding Amateur Wrestling Club continued to support his participation, with the young wrestler gaining victory as third in the state.
Attending Shasta High, Wallace continued to beat his opponents. He placed at the league level three times, also placing in sections. The young sportsman moved onto the state competition, becoming the eighth ranked wrestler in California.
Today, more than 270,000 American high school youth engage in wrestling. Mississippi is the only state without a championship tournament at the state level. Only five years ago, Dunsmuir High School had no wrestling program. The sport which American settlers and Native Americans both clung to through the history of the area had no place in the list of sports teams. Wallace had faded from the sport. “After high school, I kept going and helping a little with the Shasta High and Enterprise High practices,” Wallace says. “But life and girlfriends drew me in a different direction.” He moved to other ventures in Sacramento, leaving wrestling behind.
Life brought Wallace to Dunsmuir. It came to his attention that his good friend’s son was a wrestler, about to enter high school, and there was no team. Wallace approached the school board to inquire about beginning a team for Dunsmuir High. Two conditions were presented to him. A wrestling mat needed to be acquired for practices, and all funds for the program were to be raised by the team. Using his connections in Redding, Wallace asked Shasta High School about a mat. They donated one. The community began to stand behind the new coach and provided the needed capital to launch the team.
The new season is year five for Wallace. His team has expanded beyond Dunsmuir, merging the Mount Shasta High wrestlers under his supervision, creating a unique hybrid of a team that practices together under one coach, yet competes against one another at each season’s dozen tournaments. Wallace and his assistant, Jimmy Palmer, donate all their time. Last year, the team helped raise money for the program by raffling off an electric scooter. The winner donated the scooter back.
“It’s the hardest sport in high school. It takes every muscle of your body during those three rounds of two minutes. One wrestling match takes more energy for the athlete than a whole football game.”
In December, Wallace is found with a dozen wrestlers on the mat, doing the most extreme conditioning of their lives. Here they find camaraderie, the push to excellence and skills, which will drive them for a lifetime. Wallace’s hand moves slowly over his head as through determined eyes he barks out the next drill. Behind the steeled stance and tense voice, there is brightness in his eyes and slight smile. He says, “I love this sport and I love these kids.” •