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Confessing that I’m a tyro, I ask the coach to outline the basics.

“Greco-Roman and freestyle are the two international styles. Folkstyle has a different scoring system, which is more centered on control. It’s real simple. There are only three positions in wrestling. If you and I were to go at it, we’d start facing each other in the ‘neutral’ position. If all of a sudden I get control of you — where’s ‘control’? it’s behind you — now you’re in a defensive position…and you’re being controlled. It’s all centered around control. Basically, the sport was born out of one man saying, ‘I think I can throw you down on the mat, put you on your back.’ It becomes a legal battle.”

I ask Branstetter: “What are you allowed to do? For example, can you trip your opponent?”

“Everything. There are some illegal holds; you can’t do a ‘full Nelson.’ It’s not MMA [mixed martial arts]. No biting. Safety first. You can’t go against joints the wrong way, where they won’t go.”

If continued, long-term superiority counts — we’re talking 4 California titles, 4 runner-up marks, and another 13 top-five finishes — then Poway wrestling is a juggernaut, rivaled in California only by Clovis High School near Fresno. Among local prep programs, Poway’s dominance is even more extreme: during Branstetter’s 34-season tenure as the top Titan, his squads have won the San Diego Section Division I title 29 years in a row.

The high-school wrestling season begins in October and culminates in the California State Championships, which take place in March at the Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield. The event draws around 10,000 spectators, most of whom are friends and family of the competitors, along with alums and a few die-hard devotees. But it’s not the general public. As one former Titan star points out: “It’s not intuitive. In football, you score a touchdown and get points. In wrestling, the point system, the periods and so on, don’t mean much unless you know a little bit.”

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, wrestling — in terms of number of schools sponsoring teams — is the eighth most popular high-school team sport in the nation, with nearly 10,000 squads. In terms of participants, it ranks sixth, with around a quarter-million high school wrestlers. (The most recent survey reflects the 2006–2007 season.) In California alone, there are approximately 900 teams with a total of 35,000–40,000 wrestlers. Nonetheless, outside the mat — beyond the bounds of the insular, almost incestuous world of high-school and collegiate wrestling — the sport hardly draws a mention.

To get additional perspective on Poway’s legacy on the mats, I spoke with some of Branstetter’s former charges. “Why,” I asked, “has Poway been so good for so long?”

Paul Baird, a 2003 graduate who won the California State Championship at 145 lbs. as a junior, and 152 lbs. during his senior year, minces no words: “I think it’s because of one man — because of Coach Branstetter. But if you ask him, he’ll tell you, ‘It’s the water.’”

For Baird, wrestling was a family tradition. “My brothers wrestled for Coach Branstetter; I’d been around the program for years. Dave was nine years older than me, and I can remember him bringing the Poway wrestling singlet home and putting it on. I dreamed of one day being able to do that.”

When I served up the “nature vs. nurture” question, Baird said, “With Coach Branstetter, they’re made. Just like in anything else, your God-given ability helps. But when people wonder, ‘Why is Poway wrestling so unique?’ I tell them it’s because Coach Branstetter can take the average kid and he can make him very good. He can take the kid who’s actually talented — who has some athletic ability — and he can make him great. And that’s really where the difference is.” According to Baird, Branstetter’s influence extends far beyond the cozy confines of prep wrestling. “He has the ability to take the kid who has no idea about the sport of wrestling and make him not only a champion on the mat, but a champion in life. Every single person you talk to will say that Coach Branstetter is more than just a wrestling coach.”

Despite the ongoing success of Titan wrestling, Branstetter says that it’s still a Herculean task getting guys to go out for wrestling. “Are you kidding? I’m begging — I have to be a top salesman. When you’re trying to fill a team with 14 weight classes, you might find a whole bunch of munchkins, but it’s hard to find the bigger guys. They can get satisfied playing football or other sports. It’s always hard.”

One might think that standouts in other sports could be enticed to give wrestling a try; after all, the high-school sports scene is rife with successful multi-sport athletes. But according to Branstetter, wrestling is a different bailiwick altogether. “From our varsity football team that just won the CIF [California Interscholastic Federation] title — I got only one. I’m mean, they’re studs out there. I haven’t been able to crack that one.”

All-time Titan great Brody Barrios (standing) says wrestling is like running a six-minute mile with someone trying to hit you on the head and choke you the whole time

I queried Brody Barrios: “Why aren’t more football players interested?”

Barrios, an all-time Titan great — now the wrestling coach for both Palomar College and San Marcos High School — exemplifies the close-knit (some would say clannish) nature of San Diego County prep wrestling. “It’s hard work. When push comes to shove, they’d rather not try it. You’re exposed. You’re very vulnerable out there by yourself with no one else to rely on, nothing to hide behind. In football, you miss your block, maybe you still get a five-yard gain, but in wrestling it’s all you.”

For Barrios, who graduated in 2000, it’s always been about the battle on the mat. “I started wrestling at five or six with the Escondido Crunchers at the Escondido Boys and Girls Club. When they stopped hosting wrestling, my dad started a new club and called it the San Marcos Slammers. When we moved to Poway (I was in seventh grade), he brought them there and renamed them the Poway Slammers. It’s the largest youth wrestling program in San Diego.”

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stupidflanders19 Feb. 29, 2012 @ 4:52 p.m.

Victor Richmond is a jealous little man. Poway High's C team can wipe the mat with Mt Miguel's A team and has been doing it for 30 years. I bet the 8th grade wrestling team at Twin Peaks middle school in Poway would give them a run. If you can't win by trying, then start crying. Loser


Oldwrestler March 2, 2012 @ 5:58 a.m.

I have to say, that I loved the article. I know Coach B very well, in fact I was a member of his very first team that he ever coached in '73-'74 at Channel Islands HS in Oxnard, Ca. I wasn't the best by any means, but I greatly improved with him as our coach. He taught us life lessons, although we did not know it then. I graduated the following year, '75 and went on to join the Navy and wrestled and officiated for several years while on active duty. After retiring, I got into coaching our local HS and Middle School's teams until retiring in '05. I still stay in touch with Coach and his wife as well as several other old team mates. If anyone ever accused him of any wrong doing, just does not know him as well as those of us who have had the great pleasure of being on the mat with him. When he does retire, I will be there. With the Greatest Respect, William Moore, Monmouth, Maine aka: Oldwrestler


Greco_Star March 2, 2012 @ 11:29 a.m.

It never gets old but Poway has a reputation of being Cry Babies. For Example: When I used to help coach Fallbrook after coming from one of the powerhouses back East, we had a great 215 pounder who was called the "Experiment" that was wrestling in a tournamnet that included Poway. During the seeding process, All of the Poway coaches were trying to get their kid in a better seeding by knocking our guy down in the brackets. The Head coach and I just sat there smiling, we did not care where our kids were seeded because if you were "Truely" the best then who cares whether you are seeded or not? The Asst coaches were yelling to get our guy to be seeded lower. I stood up and said to each and everyone of them in a low whisper, "See you in an open tournament, may God have no mercy on you, cause I will not" I not only whipped one but two of the Asst coaches in one tournament, The Head coach "B" would not even look at my direction. Ask anyone up North about Poway and just see them shake their heads.


1happyguy March 4, 2012 @ 1:12 p.m.

I am not sure your point has to do with 'cry babies" Congratulations on winning the matches, but coaches should be advocates for their players. I am sure what you said is correct, but is pointless. I didnt go to Poway, and I live in North County, I dont shake my head. I am actually proud that someone in SD challenges Bakersfield and Clovis. I am actually happy that parents raise money, and get their kids involved early in wrestling. I personally know it takes some hard work and dedication to build a program like that, and it is obvious everyone else is struggling to do it, and crying because they cant.


1happyguy March 4, 2012 @ 1:08 p.m.

What a great article. I wish more kids thought of wrestling as a sport option. I applaud Poway for building such a dynamic program. In fact, most other coaches should also applaud and wish they had a program like this, so it would help evolve the sport. Additionally, I am sure there is some truth to some of the coaches complaints, but 99% is probably just jealousy. This is sad because they are suppose to be coaches, leaders, mentors, and role models for our kids. I think some of those coaches mentioned, shouldnt be coaches. Great Job Poway and Wayne...Sounds like you deserve all of the success you are earning!


jdboone March 6, 2012 @ 9:16 a.m.

pretty tough to name a state champ that wasn't home grown and made his way up the ranks starting in Slammers


SILVERBACKSWRESTLING March 28, 2012 @ 11:26 a.m.

I believe in the Homegrown Phenomenon... especially, when my teammates and I from 96-99 were fierce rivals with Calvary Chapel and hated them for recruiting...Why would we do the same? In fact we made it our Poway Slogan in 99 "Poway Homegrown," because of the ridiculous recruiting by teams like Calvary, St. Edwards, Blair Academy (all were private schools and could recruit). On the other hand, we (Poway Wrestlers) with the exception of Brody Barrios and Andy Kim did not start wrestling until Jr. High or as Freshman. As an 8th Grader, I didnt know a single thing about wrestling moves, other than what I saw from WWF. I was devastated being cut from the basketball team at Twin Peaks for not making sprints, and also for being a little uncoordinated and clumsy. Nonetheless, a friend of mine urged me to join the wrestling team @ 8th Grade. Mr. Barrios and the Factors thought me the bear hug, and then I fell in love with wrestling from there on. I HATED the sprints at first, but I knew it was necessary to last long in a match. This was the first step on building "Mental Toughness." I wanted to move like Muhammad Ali! I told coach, "I want to learn how to shoot," and my sophomore year, Coach brought in alumni Chad Totina, the "littlest heavyweight" I ever met. However, he thought me the John Smith Low Single and Coach Barrios thought me the Japanese Wizer... for a long time this was my main "TOOLS IN THE BOX." Coach Branstetter provides you, "TOOLS FOR SUCCESS" and everyday a wrestler practices moves and uses these tools to get advantage over one's opponent. "Like in any PROJECT, a guy needs the proper tools to finish the job... use the moves we teach you and put it on your box... eventually, you'll have all the tools you need to be successful at any project." (Coach Alan Toretto, Fall 96). Coach Branstetter and the Poway wrestling staff handed me tools to use in winning my STATE CHAMPIONSHIP FINALS MATCH in '99... by my Senior I was one of the most agile HWTs in the country, but I would have never reached my goals if it wasn't for the Sprints, the Long Distance Runs, Muhammad Ali, Coach Branstetter, and POWAY WRESTLING.


SILVERBACKSWRESTLING March 28, 2012 @ 11:27 a.m.

These days, I am building my own wrestling program at Ridgeview HS in Bakersfield Area with the principles that I have observed from the Poway Wrestling Program... building a youth program and a high school program together. (HOMEGROWN). What I have learned from Poway is that you always need to surround yourself with good people, have an extreme amount of patience, dedicate your time, and if you don't know the answer, communicate, and seek for proper solutions. With rival team POWERHOUSE Bakersfield HS, I could easily have "sour grapes" like other San Diego coaches complaining about Coach Branstetter's transfers, but I believe in Coach B's principle of not worrying what others are doing, and that you can only control what you yourself can accomplish or is currently doing... success will likely be achieved as long you stick with it and follow through. Dedications and Follow Through is the backbone of the his concept "Those Who Stay Will Be Champions" The most successful men and women usually knows what it takes to reach their goals. Coach Branstetter has always strive every year to reach his season goals for his team and his athletes. I suggest for those other coaches complaining about the Poway Program, "focus more on their own program, stop whining, focus more on winning, or perhaps learning and modeling from what Coach Branstetter instills in his program. Like the saying from "Field of Dreams." BUILD IT and THEY WILL COME... whether it's from HOMEGROWN or people moving and transferring to be part of something GREAT!


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