By John Philip Wyllie
After nearly four decades in wrestling, Gabe Ruz thought back in 1999 that it was finally time to say goodbye to the sport that had brought him international acclaim. At the time, Ruz, a two-time Olympic wrestler, was completing a highly successful run at the helm of Montgomery High School’s well-respected wrestling program. Having achieved what he had set out to do, he felt it time to step down. From 1999 until last year, Ruz was content to pursue other interests, but when his son, Gabe Jr. unexpectedly decided to follow in his footsteps, the former Mexican Olympic star decided it was time to return to coaching.
“Gabe (Jr.) played soccer for the Bonita Rebels and Rangers and basketball for St. Rose of Lima. When he enrolled at Bonita Vista High last year, I assumed he would continue doing that,” Ruz said. He tried out and made the Barons soccer team and his dad anticipated another season of watching him from the sidelines.
“One day he came home from practice all excited and said, ‘dad I had a great practice today, I pinned two guys.’ I said, whoa, wait a minute, what are you talking about? It was then that he told me he had tried out for the wrestling team.”
At first, the elder Ruz was annoyed that his son had abruptly left the soccer team. He directed him to tell his soccer coach that he would continue playing. But when he came home that evening after practice, he was still bound and determined to wrestle. It was time for a little father and son chat.
“I told him wrestling was a tough sport and one that is very demanding. I also told him that unless he had a burning desire to win that it would be a long, hard road. He said he wanted to try it, so I finally said OK.”
A few weeks earlier, Ruz had received several phone calls informing him that Bonita Vista was searching for a new wrestling coach. At the time he declined the offers, but with his son now on the team, his resolve to stay retired from the coaching ranks quickly evaporated. The opportunity to coach his son in wrestling was just something he could not pass up.
“We have a great relationship and he doesn’t question what I ask him to do. He prefers that I coach him. On our team we have several father son combinations where the dads serve as assistant coaches, so that is kind of unique.”
The biggest problem for the younger Ruz is living up to the expectations created by a father who wrestled himself all the way to the Olympics.
“A lot of people expect me to be just as good as he was, so there is a little bit more pressure. I just try my best and do what I can,” said the younger Ruz. “How far I can go depends upon how I do the rest of the time that I am in high school. If I do really well, then I will compete in college.”
Despite being less experienced than most of the wrestlers he faces, Ruz has won more matches than he has lost so far this season. He recently finished third in his weight class in the Mar Vista Invitational.
“His speed and physical strength are his biggest assets. He is also mentally tough. His weakness is simply a lack of experience.” The younger Ruz is gaining that with each day he spends toiling on the mat.
“Gabe has a different body type than I had. He is taller, leaner and has more leverage than I had. I don’t know how hot his fire burns, but he has a lot of potential. How far he goes is up to him. It’s a matter of how hard he wants to push.”