Guy Rocha: Best wrestler in history?
Few would argue that Dan Gable, the Olympic gold medalist in the 1972 Munich Olympics in the 68-kilogram weight class, is the best wrestler in American history.
But when it comes to being the top wrestler in Nevada history – at least, in knowing Nevada history – that title would have to go Carson City’s Guy Rocha.
In addition to being a former state-champion high school wrestler and a current assistant coach at Carson High, Rocha is the Nevada State Archivist. He will be on the sidelines helping coach the Senators on Wednesday at 4 p.m. when Carson hosts Douglas in a conference dual meet.
Rocha said that relatively few people have made the link between his job with the state and his job as a volunteer assistant in the Carson High athletic department.
“Most people don’t make the connection,” Rocha said. “People see it as incongruous. They’ll ask ‘You’re the archivist and you wrestle?’
“They don’t get it. It doesn’t seem to fit for them. They don’t see a person being physically competitive and having a job that requires intellect. Most people are used to saying ‘this person is this.’ If they’re a government official or archivist, how can they be a wrestling coach?.
“For me, to be a complete person is to do all those things. If I don’t do all those things, I’m incomplete.”
Approaching his 19th year in his position within state government, Rocha, 48, is responsible for the state archives, the state records management, and the state micro-graphics and imaging. Included in those responsibilities is the maintenance of records from Nevada’s legislature, executive branch and Supreme Court, as well as the Department of Prison records back to 1862.
“We have the records of what the government – state and territorial – has done since its inception,” said Rocha when explaining the function of the archivists’ office. “The archivist is responsible for maintaining that recorded information. We ensure that the information gets to the archives and then it’s made available to the public. Some of the information dates back to the 1850s.”
What’s far more interesting than Rocha’s job as archivist is his own personal history in wrestling – a 35-year long association with the sport that began in the mid-1960s when he was a student at Fremont Junior High in Las Vegas.
“Science teacher Tom Deppe was walking the halls, putting together a wrestling team, and he approached all these ‘tough guys’ and said ‘Do you want to see how tough you are?’ and join the wrestling team,” Rocha recalled. “I was a little guy, but thought I was tough. So I came out and competed for the team; most of the other guys quit, but I didn’t quit.”
While still a ninth grader at Fremont, Rocha entered and won the state YMCA junior tournament during ninth-grade. During the tourney, Paul Bartolo, the coach of Clark High, approached Rocha and asked where he would be attending high school. Rocha lived outside of Clark’s district at the time, but, armed with the promise from Bartolo that he would become the state champion if he went to Clark, Rocha convinced his mother to move into the apartments across the street from Clark High.
Bartolo’s promise to Rocha wasn’t an empty one. Rocha went on to win the 103-pound division at the inaugural Nevada state wrestling championships at Valley High as a junior in 1968 and then repeated as a state champ in 1969, winning the 123-pound division his senior year in the competition held at Reno High.
Although the Syracuse University wrestling coaches hadn’t seen Rocha wrestle in person, they did see some film of him wrestling. He got the call of his life when Syracuse phoned directly to Clark High to tell Rocha he was accepted to Syracuse with a full-ride athletic scholarship.
Rocha remembers his collegiate career being highlighted by the athletes he competed against rather than any individual title or tournament championship. One of Rocha’s favorite memories is taking a 6-0 lead against Navy’s Dan Muthler on the mat in Annapolis before he ultimately lost 12-6. Muthler went on to win the 142-pound NCAA championship that year.
“The story of my collegiate career is ‘close, but no cigar,” Rocha said. “I can say I wrestled against the best. I cannot say I had a stellar career in terms of winning any national tournaments or even qualifying for the NCAAs.
“One thing I learned, though, was that being a two-time Nevada state champion was nothing like being a two-time Pennsylvania state champion or two-time New York state champion. When I went back there, there first thing I had to learn was how to be a better wrestler. It was a tremendous learning curve.”
Although he never wrestled the aforementioned Dan Gable, who lost only once in college and is now the coach at Iowa, Gable did play a minor part in Rocha’s decision to concentrate on his academics – not wrestling – following his graduation from Syracuse in 1973.
“Looking at the 1976 Olympics, my decision was ‘Do I train for the Olympic Trials or do I pursue a doctorate?,'” said Rocha, who, like Gable, weighed about 142 pounds at the time. “Dan Gable was invincible, basically. Clearly, he had established himself as one of the world’s premier wrestlers. (Beating Gable for an Olympic team berth) wasn’t nearly impossible, it was impossible.”
Although he has yet to complete his doctorate, Rocha earned a graduate degree from San Diego State. He moved north to Reno in 1975 and became a substitute teacher at Hug High. Except for a few years when he took a hiatus from the sport in the 1980s, he’s been involved in Nevada prep wrestling ever since, putting in coaching stints at Hug, Sparks, White Pine and Reed as well as working one season as an official.
Rocha’s now in his fifth season as a Carson assistant. And even though he’s seen thousands of matches during his career, Rocha still gets excited when he sees a Senator wrestler put the clamps on his opponent.
“The kids especially like his intensity,” said Carson coach Tim McCarthy. “He’ll get his ‘boots’ stomping when a guy has his opponent on his back, wanting him to get the pin.”
Rocha said he believes his enthusiasm can convey some additional energy to his wrestlers at crucial moments.
“When I see them approaching the pin situation, I’m trying to inspire them,” Rocha said. “As I’m getting so worked up, they sense the energy being directed their way and the fact they’re very, very close to a pin. The wrestler will sense the urgency and be inspired to do it – I’d like to think it takes them to another level.”
McCarthy said Rocha can still hold his own on the mat against wrestlers 30 years younger.
“Coach Rocha is still an intimidating factor in wrestling,” McCarthy said. “He doesn’t know many speeds other than 100 percent. He knows a lot about the sport – he’s a technician.”
With the responsibility of two children and his job as a state official, Rocha hints that his coaching career may be drawing to a close. If this is the twilight of his coaching career, he sounds satisfied that he’s been able to give something back to the sport that gave him countless fond memories – as well as an education at Syracuse.
“I’ve had a chance like my two coaches, Tom Deppe and Paul Bartolo, to go back and share like they shared with me,” Rocha said. “I’ve touched a lot of lives like those coaches touched my life. That’s what counts for me now – to help (young wrestlers) have some success in the sport, but to also give them some discipline, goals, aspirations and motivation.
“It’s been very, very fulfilling. If I never (coached) again, I can say it was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my life.”