Steve Koch, head coach at Ramona, complains that, in contrast to the spacious digs of the Munday Center, his wrestling room consists of an “old gym where we have to move the mats out every day.” Noting Poway’s ability to attract transfers, he quips, “We do the best we can with what’s out there — and there isn’t much. Last year, we had our best season ever — and we still finished second behind Poway.” Nonetheless, Koch allows, “Wayne Branstetter is a good man.”
Perry Watson, who holds the reins at Westview, goes a bit further. “Half of their starting lineup isn’t from Poway — they draw the best athletes. If I had five or six transfers a year like they do…” The affable Watson seems awed by the Titan machine. “Their entire B team would be starters on my A team, and even 60–70 percent of their C [team] could start.”
But the most outspoken by far is Victor Richmond, head wrestling coach at Mount Miguel in Spring Valley.
Richmond, who calls Poway High School a “bully,” charges that Poway power has been perpetuated partially by bending — or even breaking — the CIF rules that govern recruiting and transfers. He says that out of the 14 “A” varsity wrestlers on the 2011–2012 squad, six “should have” been pounding the mats at other schools. “If you transfer athletically — motivated athletically — and every one of those kids went into Poway off an athletic transfer — it’s not allowed. We’re not talkin’ about ‘any type’ of transfers. One took a second at the California State meet. One took a fourth and another took a fifth at the Master’s. We’re talkin’ about the best kids around.”
Among Richmond’s more incendiary allegations is that Poway wrestling boosters have furnished bogus local addresses for star wrestlers. “Let’s take [current Titan standout] Victor Lopez, for instance. Lives out in Calexico. Key words — still lives in Calexico. Let’s be real. You know the Poway district, you know the area. A lot of the people in Poway do a little renting. Some people have a little money, where they can get one of them apartments. Jesse Taylor transferred in his freshman year — still lives in Murrieta — I know where he lives. A lot of those people are puttin’ up kids; they’re protectin’ their own, that’s all. Stevie Cervantes transferred from Eastlake. Another guy came from Imperial High School. The Doyles, [they] should’ve been at Ramona. Ralphie Tovar should be in the San Bernardino area. I really don’t know how they got there. How the hell do you get six kids of that caliber to transfer in? It’s just not fair.”
In 2008, Richmond was among a contingent of local wrestling coaches who sent a protest letter to the CIF, whose commissioner at the time was Dennis Ackerman. (According to a U-T article posted on September 25, 2008, “more than 15 coaches submitted allegations.”) However, after a lengthy investigation, the CIF concluded that there was no basis to impose sanctions against Poway. But Richmond levels charges of favoritism: “Ackerman’s son played baseball at Poway…he [Ackerman] turned a blind eye to a lot of what went on. Some of us are scrutinized by the CIF under those same rules they’re lettin’ these guys get away with. It’s just frustrating.”
Richmond also claims that the Titans have violated CIF rules by attempting to lure younger wrestlers to the Munday mats. “I got two emails from a guy who says that Poway’s havin’ a luncheon for 20 junior wrestlers — recruiting — which is illegal. They’re currently in junior high. You know, when you got a tournament, you see a kid wrestle real good, you get one of those Poway boosters to talk to the kid: ‘We could make you a state champ over at Poway.’ In Minneapolis [summer wrestling camp], I was standing there when one of the assistant coaches at Poway was recruiting Sammy Cervantes for the heavyweight class the incoming year. He was a senior, transferring out of Imperial High School.”
When I told Richmond that Branstetter and his alums say that most of their wrestlers are “home-grown,” Richmond shot back, “They all lie.”
Richmond disputes the notion that Branstetter’s work ethic is key. “Hard work. Yeah, whatever. Really? They’ve been doin’ the same thing we do. There’s nothin’ special about what they’re teaching them. It’s just wrestling. I can tell you he don’t work no harder than I do. Since 1987, since I’ve been coaching, nobody can say I recruited a kid out of his room. ‘We don’t have the best athletes — we make ordinary kids great’? It’s such a lie. They just got Connor King from Colorado. He’s ranked #2 in the state. I get raw athletes — most of them in ninth grade — and teach them to wrestle. I don’t critique a kid that somebody else taught how to wrestle.”
“That’s bullshit. Sorry.”
Richmond and his compatriots complain of “stacking” and say that Poway’s roster is so deep that it deprives San Diego County of greater representation at the California championships. “Those kids are being stockpiled in that room, because you can only get one kid per weight class. They have possibly two state medalists in that room at [a certain] weight; one should’ve been somewhere else.”
Branstetter steadfastly disputes Richmond’s accusations of cheating. “Six transfers? That’s a blatant lie. There are three. One moved in from Colorado. One kid, Cervantes — his brother wrestled for us a couple of years ago — the family moved from Eastlake and came to Poway. Another kid, Jara, came from Imperial; his dad was a wrestling coach who didn’t want to coach anymore and wanted his boy to be at a better school.” Lopez’s parents still live in Calexico? “That’s a lie. Lopez was in Poway schools in sixth through ninth grades, then his mother changed jobs and went back to Calexico for four months. I wouldn’t call Lopez a transfer. That’s it. Big deal.