VACAVILLE — It’s been 10 seasons since Rich Penaluna stepped down as the Vacaville High School wrestling coach, but the coach is still going strong.
Penaluna, 68, handed the reins of the Bulldogs’ grappling program over to Adam Wight and Clint Birch after the 2005 season, but he didn’t go far. He took over the Vacaville Wrestling Club, a youth program, to help prepare the up-and-coming wrestlers headed toward the high school level.
“I miss it,” Penaluna said, of being Vacaville’s head coach. “It’s like the old firehouse, when the alarm goes off (the high school season begins), you get a little itchy. I’m connected through the youth program with it all. Two years ago for seniors at the high school was my first real batch of kids (who came out of the youth program).”
Working with the youngsters is something Penaluna really enjoys, especially with the success at Vacaville High, where many of his wrestlers end up.
“It’s going really well,” Penaluna said. “We had about 110 kids last wrestling season. That’s the highest (number) we’ve ever had. A lot of it is word of mouth. People like the program and talk to their friends and it has grown that way.”
Penaluna has been coaching since 1975, either in football or wrestling, or both. He said the difference in teaching the younger kids is that he can start them with the basics and let them advance from there.
“It’s exactly that (going back to the basics),” the coach said. “You go back to the basics, from maintaining a stance to just kind of . . . (letting) the little kids grapple. Then they start picking up moves. It’s a lot of grabbing, holding somebody and pushing. It’s tougher with the little kids. We use the analogy with baseball, you go strike out and walk back to the dugout, (the fans) still clap.
“In wrestling, someone throws you down on the mat. With the youth kids, the whole idea of losing, it’s really a loss for them. In baseball, you just don’t win. In wrestling, you lose. We don’t have them in a lot of competitions, we ease them in. You don’t want too much losing (as a youngster).”
Of course, the youth program is a feeder program for the high school, but Penaluna doesn’t force it on the kids.
“The whole goal of the club is to sustain the high school program,” he said. “We’ve got it up to a level. We just want to maintain that level, keep that level and go even higher. (But) we don’t push any of the kids to be a Vaca High wrestler. We let them choose that path.
“It’s a complement. The youth program is developmental. The high school program goes for the gusto. If you can get the kids to like and want to do it, they will want to go on and do more in the junior high program and the high school program.”
The coach is also appreciative of the help he gets in the wrestling room.
“My assistant coach, Francis Aquino, this is his third year. He does a lot with the kids. He’s an ex-MEL wrestler at Vintage . . . His son Jordan wrestles at the high school. We’re blessed to have (Francis) in the program.”
Penaluna, who coached three state champions at Vacaville High with Beau McCoy (2000), Brett Slone (2003) and Kyle DeVan (2003), likes the fact that everyone becomes bonded with each other while participating with the club, and sometimes all the way through high school.
“That’s really pleasurable to see,” Penaluna said. “I’m just going to say that wrestling is like a fraternity. It’s really tight. The contact with kids, the parents. It’s really nice.”
Reach Brian Arnold at 427-6969 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/barnolddr.