|Ron Lunsford: Coach for all seasons
Retired coach in Rancho Cotate athletic Hall of Fame
Ron Lunsford knew before almost everyone else he would be inducted into the Rancho Cotate Athletic Hall of Fame.
The man who has coached or served as an assistant for just about every team at Rancho Cotate High also serves on the committee that organizes the Hall of Fame ceremony, so he didn’t receive “the special phone call” others received. But the honor still means a great deal to him.
“For me, it’s like a lifetime achievement award, but man, it’s a great, great honor,” said Lunsford, who retired from teaching and coaching at Rancho Cotate two years ago.
Lunsford’s first love is wrestling, and in his 28 years of being involved with the sport, Rancho Cotate won 10 league titles and placed second in the CIF State Championships in 1979.
The 1979 team, which included state champion Joe Guinn and second-place finisher Gary Soto, also was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Hall class of 2012
This year’s Hall of Fame inductees were: George Geister and Wayne Thomas, for distinguished service; football coach Ken Smith; softball coach Mark Alton; Mike Padia, Class of 1969, football and wrestling; Mike Wlodarczyk, Class of 1971, football and baseball; Kent Holman, Class of 1974, football, basketball and track; Todd Peterson, Class of 1976, football, basketball and golf; Michele Geister, Class of 1980, volleyball and basketball; Ken Aggio, Class of 1981, football and baseball; James Clay, Class of 1986, wrestling; Tor Hansen, Class of 1988, football and wrestling; Jim Veler, Class of 1989, football, basketball and baseball; Kelli Nash, Class of 1990, volleyball and softball; Tammy Faagata, Class of 1990, softball; Heather Davis, Class of 1992, basketball and softball; Chauncey Ako, Class of 1999, football; Kevin Guinn, Class of 2000, wrestling, soccer and football; and Phyllis Blanchard, Class of 2004, track and cross country.
Partnership with Hansen
Lunsford also coached track and field, girls basketball, swimming and football.
“He was a coach that really loved kids,” said Wayne Thomas, who has been the voice at Rancho Cotate sporting events for years and who also was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame on April 28. “A lot of coaches are out there for their own reasons, but Ron was a coach who really cared about the kids. It was always about the kids with Ron and Norm Hansen, making them better students and better citizens. Norm and Ron had a way of steering kids in the right direction.”
The names of Hansen, who died of cancer on Nov. 12, 2002, and Lunsford forever will be linked in the annals of Rancho Cotate sports. If not for Hansen, Lunsford likely would have been coaching elsewhere. His first high school job offer was in Vacaville, and later that week he got an offer to teach in Rohnert Park.
The decision ultimately came down to where he wanted to live. Because he likes activities such as scuba and abalone diving, and with the ocean being about a half-hour away, the choice was easy for him. And then there was Hansen’s influence.
“I started out coaching wrestling against Norm when I was at Rincon Valley Junior High and he at Rohnert Park Junior High,” Lunsford said. “He kept at me to stay so we could work together at the high school.”
‘No fun in wrestling room’
The rest is history, and they made history. Lunsford and Hansen turned Rancho Cotate into one of the most respected wrestling programs in Northern California during its heyday.
“Ron had a lot of time and dedication for the kids,” said Soto, inducted into the Hall of Fame last year. “He coached wrestling with passion and kids enjoyed that passion from him and were motivated. He and Coach Hansen were like bookends. They had a good chemistry. It was a brother-like relationship that just worked.”
When asked how much fun it was wrestling under Lunsford and Hansen, Soto said, “There was no fun in the wrestling room. It was just hard work, and the fun came in the end result of that work. You learned the moves and got the competitive edge. If you didn’t win, that was OK because the coaches knew you did your best.”
Lunsford feels he and Hansen worked so well together because of their friendship outside of wrestling. Their families often traveled together.
“I think we were able to carry that into the workout room,” Lunsford said. “We balanced each other out and were always on the same page, and I think that part was key.”
Getting his start
Lunsford grew up in Soquel and wrestled at Cabrillo College before transferring to Sonoma State University, where he was part of the school’s last wrestling team in 1974.
His teaching career began at Rohnert Park Junior High in 1975. He taught math at Rancho Cotate for 10 years before leaving to become an assistant principal in Calistoga for three years. Eventually, he returned to Rancho Cotate.
Lunsford has been married to his wife, Michele, for seven years and has two children from a previous marriage.
His daughter, Tracy, teaches elementary school in Idaho, and his son, Ryan, is currently the wrestling coach at Rancho Cotate.
Ryan Lunsford said attending the school where your father taught and being coached by him provided some difficult moments.
“One of the things that would turn me off immediately would be how some teachers would tell me they’d tell my dad if I screwed up,” Ryan said. “I’d be like, ‘yeah, I really want to be in this class.’ I had a bad attitude.”
The good, however, far outweighed the bad.
“He helped a lot of kids, a lot of us with life, not just wrestling or sports,” Ryan said. “Back then, there were about eight of those coaches that did that. He was one of the last of those old-school coaches who did that. He put in a lot of work. He didn’t get paid a lot, as I’m finding out, but it’s not about that for him, especially when you affect that many lives.”
Ryan Lunsford said he doesn’t feel added pressure because of his father’s legacy. In fact, he embraces it.
“Wrestling, that was my world as a kid,” he said. “I would like everyone to feel the same amount of pride in the school and the community as I do. I expect the wrestlers to be good citizens, treat their parents well and work hard. That’s how I was taught.”