High school wrestling

Greg Hansen: Wrestling coach leaves behind dynasty

DeBerry went to the mat for Sunnyside, winning 15 state titles
2011-08-03T00:00:00Z 2011-08-03T06:33:25Z Greg Hansen: Wrestling coach leaves behind dynastyGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 03, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Bobby DeBerry's phone number lit up the hand-held device the way it always does late in the summer. He would be calling from North Dakota or Nevada or Pennsylvania with so much good news of Sunnyside's summer wrestling tour of America.

Maybe one of the Larkin brothers had made the USA National Team, or perhaps one of the Gallick boys was ranked No. 1 by the Wrestling News.

One year, DeBerry's late-summer call was to herald the hiring of a Blue Devil as the head coach at Arizona State. Many years, he phoned to rattle off a list of the college powerhouses recruiting Sunnyside's defending state champions.

The calls were always about the boys who helped his Sunnyside squads win 14 consecutive state team championships and 15 total.

On Tuesday, for the first time, the call was about Bobby DeBerry himself.

"I have resigned," he said. "I'm tired."

A week ago, Bobby and Kathy DeBerry and their two boys, Kyle and Kory - both four-time state champions - went to Disneyland for the family's first real summer vacation in, what, 20 years? His chronic back pain subsided a bit. He didn't need the ever-present brace he wears on his leg in the Blue Devil wrestling room. The stress and immediacy of winning a 15th consecutive state title ebbed.

"Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, isn't that what they say? I decided this would be the best time to leave," says Bobby DeBerry. "I am happy. I feel good about Sunnyside. It is someone else's turn."

He is 50 years old. What DeBerry did as the Blue Devils' wrestling coach was beyond comprehension. He replaced Richard Sanchez, who went out on top after five straight state titles. Before that, Don Klostreich won nine state championships (1979 and eight straight from 1981-88).

DeBerry took it up a notch. Is that possible?

From afar, it seemed so simple. Doing what Klostreich and Sanchez did, DeBerry kept his foot on the accelerator. He coached in July the same way he coached in January. The Blue Devils became his greater family. Kathy would complete her nursing shift at TMC and go directly to the wrestling room to be with her husband and her sons for that day's practice.

January became June, which became September, which became January.

"I knew this would come eventually, he just kept up such a crazy pace," says his oldest son, Kyle, who is a senior wrestler at ASU. "He would say, 'One of these days, I'll be gone' but I didn't believe it. I'm so happy he is able to go out on top. I know he wants to watch Kory and me wrestle for the Sun Devils this year. It's a special time for our family."

This has been an unsettling year at Sunnyside. Sanchez retired from coaching - seven state championships in football/wrestling - to become the district athletic director. Baseball coach Ernie Palomarez, who won more than 500 games in 32 seasons, retired a few months later. And now Pillar No. 3, DeBerry, is gone.

Has any high school in Southern Arizona ever gone through something like this?

"I don't think people quite understand what coaching entails these days," Sanchez says. "It's a lot different than when I started 32 years ago. You just don't go home after the season and go on a cruise like the pro and college coaches do. They've got their academic advisors and strength coaches.

"But in high school, when the season ends, you start getting ready for next year. You don't have time to reflect. You're raising money. Starting your summer program. You're being a father figure to some kids. It's go, go, go, go. When I talked to Bobby, he sounded tired."

DeBerry is a Tucson High grad who started his coaching career, innocently enough, trying to cut into the Sunnyside mystique while at Canyon del Oro. When Sanchez left his wrestling job to coach the Blue Devil football team in the early '90s, DeBerry moved to Sunnyside and had the audacity to believe he could carry the torch of this city's most successful high school sports program.

In 17 years, his Blue Devils won 15 state team championships. In the other two seasons, they were No. 2. He has been the USA Coach of the Year. The torch remains aflame.

"When you look at his legacy, wow, the winning is ridiculous," Kyle DeBerry says about his dad. "But to me, the real success was that he was able to touch the lives of so many people. Not just a few kids. Many, many kids. He insisted that a Blue Devil wrestler be a positive part of the community. You can't even estimate at how many kids he kept out of jail and out of trouble."

What Bobby DeBerry does next is anyone's guess. He also resigned his teaching position at Sunnyside because, he says, he doesn't want his successor to feel like he is being watched. And then he added this:

"One of my favorite authors is Dr. Seuss. He wrote, 'Don't be sad it's over, be glad it happened.' That's the way I feel, too."

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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