Nick Guerrero spent Thursday morning at Arizona State’s rec center competing in a wrestling tournament for Westwood.
He was just one of more than 300 competitors at the Steve Blackford Duals, but Guerrero is a little bit different than most of the wrestlers at the event.
That’s because he could have just as easily been at the golf range or batting cage.
Guerrero is the rare three-sport athlete in this age of specialization as everyone with an ounce of talent chases scholarship money and in doing so focus on one sport all year.
He’s just a sophomore so there might come a time where he narrows his focus, but as of now Guerrero plans on playing all three as long as he can.
“I love playing all three,” he said. “There are three seasons and that’s the way I look at it. A lot of kids focus on one sport, but these are the sports I’ve always played so I don’t want to stop doing it.”
It’s a mentality that has seemingly gone the way of the landline phone, the encyclopedia and Triple-A trip tickets for road trips.
“Back in my day, everyone played three sports,” Westwood coach Aaron Decker said. “Nick has the athleticism and intelligence to be really good, but he’s just not seasoned like someone who competes year-round. That’s part of (choosing multiple sports). Golf and baseball suck up a lot of time so when the season ends for us we go into freestyle, but he moves onto baseball.
“That’s fine and I’ve spoken to his father about it. It’s the way it should be working with your own kids instead of clubs siphoning off kids. Wrestling is a footrace. From the time you start to the time you finish, it is about learning as much technique and perfecting it as possible.”
It’s harder to do that when the athlete has a short window to do so. Guerrero has been on varsity for golf since his freshmen season, moved to varsity in wrestling as a sophomore and will probably be on junior varsity in baseball.
His father, John, was a state champion in golf and state placer in wrestling for Westwood. The elder Guerrero is a PGA teaching professional and the men’s and women’s golf coach at Mesa Community College.
He and his two brothers played multiple sports and when he recruits for MCC he likes to find out that one of his prospects plays other sports outside of golf.
“We played sports depending on the season and if that’s what Nick wants to do I’m all for it,” John said. “I believe golf and wrestling can go hand-in-hand. Both are individual sports with a team aspect and when you are competing the little things matter the most. Whether it is your short game or finishing a shot, you have to do everything just right to make it work.”
The Guerreros approach doesn’t always coincide with that of the coach of certain programs.
There are plenty of football coaches out there they say that they want their kids playing multiple sports but then he or an assistant coach give their players a hard time when they miss an offseason workout because they are at wrestling or track practice.
It can dwindle the numbers for other sports when you also add pressure from club coaches for sports like soccer, swimming, volleyball and basketball, parents seeing scholarship money dissipating without total focus on one sport and simply the athlete choosing one sport over the other because he is better at it.
It works the other way, too.
There are plenty of great athletes that concentrate only on wrestling. They compete in the sport 365 days a year and the benefits come from getting as much mat time as possible.
Mountain View junior Jeremiah Hollen isn’t one of them.
He is the Toros starting middle linebacker since he was sophomore and finished as the state runner-up at 195 pounds last season.
Both type of athletes are keeping most of the area wrestling programs healthy when it comes to numbers in the room, but it fluctuates each season.
Mountain View, which won the Championship bracket at the Blackford Duals, keeps a roster of 40 under the direction of second-year coach Corey Anderson.
“I feel like it’s always me to make a connection with the wrestlers and make some inroads with them,” he said. “If I had 80 kids in the room, I couldn’t make the kind of connection that I wanted.”
Red Mountain, which finished fifth in the Championship bracket, has about 60 kids on the team in the Nick Karantinos’ first year in his second run at running the program.
“I felt like we needed to get the numbers up,” he said. “It gives you options and competition in the room. There are different levels and styles, so it really helps develop wrestlers at all levels.”
Mesa, which won the Gold bracket with a 5-1 record, has been gaining numbers in recent years under Dave DiDomenico as the momentum continues to build to about 45 kids.
“We have a lot of young kids,” he said. “The size of school doesn’t always equate to the number of kids you can pick from because certain kids just aren’t athletes. We have some enthusiasm going and the culture is right. The teachers and coaches are all working together and supporting them.”
Westwood, which finished third in the Maroon bracket, is on the other spectrum. Despite being among the largest schools in the state, the Westwood wrestling room has about 20 kids to fill out the 14-man lineup.
“I have 19 kids where I used to have 75,” Westwood coach Aaron Decker said. “The kids I do have are going to be tough, but we just don’t have enough of them. Other coaches are sucking them up and you just don’t see it encouraged anymore. It is hard to get some kids to commit to it.”
That’s why someone like Guerrero is so vital to Westwood’s program.
“I’m the oldest of all of my nephews and my brother,” Guerrero said. “Some of them are starting to get into wrestling and other sports. I want to show them the way, so they can see they don’t have to choose one sport if they don’t want to.
“I don’t feel the pressure to be like my dad as much as I do being the first one of the next (generation) to keep playing as many sports as we can.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Blackford Duals
Mountain View 6-0 (3-0 in pool action, 3-0 in bracket action)
Toros defeated Tempe (first round), Cienega (semis), Waldon Grove (finals)
Red Mountain 5-1 (3-0, 2-1)
Red Mountain lost to Cienega (first round), defeated Tempe, defeated Highland
Mesa 5-1 (2-1, 3-0)
Jackrabbits defeated Millennium, Sahuaro, Bradshaw Mountain
Westwood 3-3 (1-2, 2-1)
Warriors defeated a community squad, lost to Benson, defeated Desert Mountain.