OTHELLO — It seemed only right that the old school was there on Saturday night at the Leonard Schutte Invitational at PJ Taggares Gymnasium in Othello.
Moses Lake coach Ron Siebel (1976-2004) was there, still working with the Chiefs program he helped make legendary. He's also doing some work with the Big Bend women's program.
Former Huskies head coach Wayne Schutte sat grabbing a bite to eat in the hospitality room between bouts. The Washington State Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame coach, who produced 12 individual state champions in 19 years, has been active in the tournament that bears his father's name for years.
Longtime Othello coach Rudy Ochoa Sr. is an assistant in his son Rudy II's room these days. Rudy Sr. and Schutte were teammates on the back-to-back title teams in 1968-69, when Ocha Sr. won a state championship in 1968.
So when Ruben Martinez made his return to Taggares Gym wearing his Hall of Fame jacket he just blended right in. But there was something different about the guy (1995-2015) that spent nearly half of his 45-year coaching career wearing Othello red and black, produced 16 individual state champions and two team titles in 2004 and 2013.
This time around, all the Royal guys were hanging around. But once a wrestling guy, always a wrestling guy. Martinez is in his first season at Royal. He's new to the Royal Slope, but not to wrestling where his 45-year career earned him a selection in the class of 2015 at the Washington Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame
“He came to me and asked if they could name this tournament after my father,” said Wayne Schutte, who was the Huskies coach the two decades prior to Martinez. “My dad wasn't a coach, but he was an avid wrestling fan.”
The tournament that Ruben built has taken on a certain status, becoming a proving ground heading into the infamous Tri-State Tournament over in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
“The biggest difference is coaching 1A and 2A is the numbers (in the room),” Martinez said. “We had 35-40 when I was at Othello and right now we have 25 (at Royal). But we have some good, quality kids and I want to build the excitement level behind what we're doing.”
His efforts have not gone unnoticed in the Columbia Basin wrestling world where you can't throw a stick without hitting a Hall of Famer.
“Ruben's one of those coaches that cares for his kids,” Siebel said. “He teaches great technique. I've always liked being around him. There are so many distractions now days. Back in our day, you got on the mat and worked hard and you worked hard off the mat. I think having those kids with strong work ethic is important and it teaches something they can use when they're done wrestling. Ruben's a big part doing the right thing.”
They say that respect earns respect, and Martinez has earned his share of respect over the course of time.
“He's a legend for Othello and he really knows how to motivate his kids,” said Ocha Sr., who was the head coach at McFarland Middle School in Othello . “He's a state champ himself, then went on to Montana and then came back and wrestled here. It was nice to have a home boy come back and help out.
“This is his first tournament outside of being an Othello coach, but everybody knows him, shakes his hand, hugs him. It's like he never left.”
As Martinez sat at the table gathering the bout information at the Royal Mix & Match, he'd look up ever now and then and smile as his assistants sitting in the chairs matside barking out instructions to the kids on the mat. He nodded at the information they were receiving.
“They've been running practices and working hard in the room,” Martinez said. “They deserve a chance to see it through. That's a big part of developing the program is getting out young coaches excited about what we're doing.”