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A driven wrestler set bar for Wyoming

Reporter Irv Moss writes about stars from the past
By Irv Moss
The Denver Post (Original here)

When Ray Sanchez said he left his beloved sport of wrestling behind because he didn’t see enough of himself in his pupils, it wasn’t a sign of personal aggrandizement.

Sanchez stepped down as wrestling coach at Greeley West High School in 1976 not because of what he was doing, but because of what his own experience told him his wrestlers weren’t doing.

“Wrestling can be a lonely sport,” Sanchez said last week as he prepared for induction into the Wyoming Sports Hall of Fame. “There’s so much inner dedication involved. The workouts are tough. I lifted a lot of weights. You have to want to be successful more than anything else.”

He learned through his high school days at Cheyenne Central, his collegiate time at Wyoming and a spell in international competition that there wasn’t an easier way.

“I just didn’t see the commitment when I was coaching,” Sanchez said. “We had a couple of state-place winners in my four years. It seemed that it was too easy for some of my wrestlers to quit. They didn’t want to commit to the demanding workouts that are necessary to compete against the best.”

Sanchez left his sport behind and pursued an advanced college degree. The additional schooling took him into administration in Denver Public Schools and then Jefferson County Schools. He retired in 2005.

During times when Sanchez relives his illustrious wrestling career, he remembers those who were instrumental to him along the way. Joe Dowler, his former coach at Cheyenne Central, tops the list. Dowler introduced Sanchez to the Hall of Fame banquet audience Saturday.

“Joe Dowler was the best coach I had and he had the greatest influence on my life,” Sanchez said.

Dowler’s coaching and Sanchez’s inner drive meshed so well, he went on to four state championships and a 93-0-0 record. He still ranks as Wyoming’s only undefeated high school wrestler in four years of competition.

“I’m pretty proud of my high school record,” Sanchez said. “It’s probably still the highlight for me.”

Dowler, whose older brother, Boyd, played wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers, said Sanchez had benefited from instruction from his older brothers, especially Gil Sanchez.

“My style of wrestling was to go for pins,” Dowler said. “That fit Raymond’s personality perfectly. He was extremely strong and a very smart wrestler.”

After high school, Sanchez established his name at the top of the list of wrestlers in the Rocky Mountain region. He took fourth place in the world freestyle wrestling championships in 1967 in Toledo, Ohio. He won two championships at the Great Plains tournament in Lincoln, Neb., and became an All-American in 1967 with a fourth-place finish at 115 pounds in the NCAA championships. He won two titles in the senior men’s national AAU championships, won two Rocky Mountain AAU freestyle championships and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1967.

“As much as wrestling did for me, I’ve lost some of the drive to stay with it,” Sanchez said. “It wears on you when you build up to a big year and intangibles get in the way. Wrestling put me through college, and that was major. I do miss it sometimes.”

If he wants a refresher, he has one right around the corner. His son, Scott, is the wrestling coach at Niwot High School, not far from his Longmont home.

Sanchez credits his older brothers Gil, Art and David with starting him down the right path. His early training came through matches in the backyard.

He was in the 103-pound weight division for his first state high school title.
“If you’re worried about being too small or not tall enough, wrestling can be your game,” Sanchez said. “Winning fourth place in the world championships wasn’t too bad for a little Hispanic kid from south Cheyenne.”

Sanchez bio
Born: Nov. 10, 1946, in Cheyenne

High school: Cheyenne Central

College: Wyoming

Family: Wife Lynn; sons Ray, Britt and Scott; daughters Katrina, Megan and Amy

Hobbies: Yardwork and keeping up with 21 grandchildren

What’s next: Seeing more of the world, with Ireland the first stop