The practices under legendary coach Don Klostreich were so intense and without leniency inside the sweatbox known as Sunnyside’s workout room that one of his first standout wrestlers does not believe they could take place in today’s society.
Klostreich said yesterday of the daily regimen, “We would go into that room, lock the door and we would go two to three hours, sometimes 3 1/2 hours, balls-to-the-wall. No water breaks. … No water breaks. That’s what they wanted. It wasn’t me. That’s what they wanted. They were tough kids.”
“The workouts we had in that room …,” Joe Solorio said, pausing to think with an incredulous look. “I think they are illegal today. It was hot in there and we couldn’t leave the room.
“I remember one time I really had to go out to the bathroom. Coach let me go to the bathroom. They were practicing basketball in the gym. I laid down on the bleachers. There was a Jack in the Box cup there. I saw it and it was cold. I lifted it up and drank it. It was like a root beer or coke. Somebody had left it.”
Solorio, one of Klostreich’s first wrestlers at Sunnyside who graduated in 1977, did not want to quit despite the unrelenting workout conditions. He would later coach Pima Community College’s wrestling program and is now the head instructor at Primero Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
“We had tough workouts, man. Coach was old school, strict,” he said, “But it was a good environment.”
So good that by when Klostreich coached Sunnyside’s first state championship team 40 years ago, almost 100 hopefuls packed the tiny room trying to make the team and be part of his burgeoning program.
Instead of shying away from the challenge in that unforgiving sweatbox, Sunnyside’s students embraced the opportunity.
“It was rough. It was tough,” said Roy Tadeo, a member of Sunnyside’s first state title team in 1978-79. “If it’s not rough and tough the best is not going to come out of there. If you don’t like it, get out. You get on it or get out. (Klostreich) always pushed us that way.
“I could see where he was going. There was a lot of discipline and teamwork. It was the can-do attitude. My older brother, Juan Tadeo, wrestled before I did. He always told me, ‘I did it, you can do it too.'”
From the moment Klostreich first stepped foot in that workout room in 1973 to when he entered yesterday afternoon to address the Blue Devils before their matches against Cienega and Salpointe, the program has evolved into one of the nation’s most dominant dynasties.
Since winning that first title, Sunnyside has won 30 more, including last year with one of Tucson’s most accomplished athletes, Roman Bravo-Young, who is now a freshman standout with Penn State.
Thirty-one championships in 40 years.
“To win one state championship is tough,” Klostreich said. “To win 31, well multiply that by 31. There are a lot of schools that have never won a state championship and they have some pretty good programs.
“Every time Sunnyside wins a state championship, I get credit for it. It blows me away. I’m happy. I’m proud that my name is mentioned.”
The success all comes from the image of Klostreich and the boot-camp atmosphere he started a year after he was let go as the football coach at Phoenix Carl Hayden because of reportedly an altercation stemming from somebody saying something negative about his players there.
The late Paul Petty, Sunnyside’s football coach at the time who was previously part of Klostreich’s staff at Hayden, convinced the powers-that-be at Sunnyside to hire the fiery coach to lead the wrestling program.
Klostreich, now retired in Yuma but still operating wrestling clinics, is so revered by his former wrestlers, including the likes of Sam Portillo and Tommy Ortiz, that they believe Sunnyside should name its gym after Klostreich.
“It’s long overdue,” Portillo, now the head coach at Desert View, told me recently. “There’s no other coach in Tucson who has the success he had or built the kind of program that he built.”
Klostreich made the trip from Yuma with his wife Faith to take part in the 40th anniversary celebration of the program’s first state championship team yesterday at Sunnyside.
Sitting among wrestlers from his 15 years at Sunnyside from 1974 to 1989, Klostreich recalled the struggle to get that first championship. The 40th anniversary of achieving that initial title could have happened in any of the last five years.
“The first team here in 1974 we took fourth and then it was second in 1975, second in 1976, second in 1977 and then third in 1978,” Klostreich said. “We talked that, ‘We are going to win the state title next year, we are going to win the state title next year.’ Well, quit your Goddamn talking and let’s do it. They did it.
“What that team taught me is you wrestle the way you practice. When we came out on the mat, we weren’t worried about coaching any more because we did it all in that (workout) room. We came out here and we knew what to do.”
Klostreich was like a drill sergeant on his very first day on the job at Sunnyside in the fall of 1973.
“The first day, I couldn’t believe it … I walk in that room and the back door is open. Some of the kids were running around outside,” Klostreich said. “I said, ‘What’s going on?’ They told me, ‘That’s the way we do it.’ Well, I said, ‘I’m going to change that in a hurry.’
“I locked the doors. I only had about 10-12 kids there. I started to recruit. Even today, I recruit (for his statewide clinics). I would walk down the hall and say, ‘You’re wresting and you’re wrestling.’ I would be getting kids on the last day of school for next season. We ended up having 100 kids in that room. We had them stand up against wall.”
Tadeo, retired in Kansas City after more than 20 years of service in the Marines, was one of them. Often wrestling out of his weight class against heavier opponents, he epitomized Klostreich’s no-excuses mantra.
“I remember Coach Klostreich telling me he was going to put me at 191 … and I was only 160 pounds,” Tadeo said. “I gave it my best and I scored. That’s what it was all about.”
Tadeo moved from Tucson in 1983 although he and his wife Lisa visit his hometown annually for the holidays. His return to Sunnyside yesterday for the ceremony was the first time he was on campus since he graduated in 1979.
“It doesn’t seem like 40 years. Watching this match it seems like yesterday,” Tadeo said. “It’s unreal. For the first time I got to back into the wrestling room. It was like a dream come true. It was amazing.
“I took my wife back there. I can’t believe I was standing on this mat again, 40 years later. I also picked up the trophy for the first time. Forty years ago, I never picked it up and I picked it up now. It was amazing.”
A reunion yesterday ensued with teammate Freddie Cota and others.
“Just seeing him was amazing. I hugged him. I couldn’t say anything. The last match we had in 1979 was the last time I saw him.”
Klostreich was invited to speak with the current Blue Devils by coach Anthony Leon, who has continued the lineage of championships with the program. After Klostreich won nine championships, Richard Sanchez had five and Robert DeBerry achieved 15.
Leon has managed two titles since his hire 2011.
“I’m blessed to be part of this program and I feel very grateful to Coach Klostreich, for this school and this team,” Leon said. “It was great have Coach talk to the team. It was exciting. If you can’t get up when Coach Klostreich talks to you, you can’t get up.
“For us, it just comes down to understanding what the legacy is so you can follow up. It’s kind of like knowing history. I feel a sense of urgency because when you’re coaching Sunnyside, you’re trying to win one every single year.”
Klostreich said he told the current Sunnyside wrestlers, “I don’t know you guys but I love you,” because he built the same premise of family with his wrestlers through those difficult workouts and yearly struggles to win another state championship.
“One thing about me,” he said, “is that I’ve been blessed beyond blessed. The kids that I have coached for more than 40 years still come to my house, still talk to me and still hang out at my house.
“We have love for one another. We don’t talk to each other unless we say, “I love you.” And that’s good. What’s wrong with that? I’ve been blessed with a lot of love.”
After members of the 1979 team were introduced, and his valuable longtime assistant coach Chris Antoniotti, who went on to win titles coaching Desert View, Klostreich slowly broke away from the mat with a limp because of nerve problems in his legs which have caused his calves and feet to become numb.
He couldn’t make it quick enough to the microphone to acknowledge one member of that symbolic team — the late Eddie Urbano — who was there in spirit.
Urbano, who died of an apparent suicide at age 50 in 2012, won state championships in 1979 and again in 1980. At Pima College, he won NJCAA titles in 1981 and 1982. An All-American at ASU, he won the NCAA championship at 150 pounds. He later wrestled for Team USA.
“We are especially missing Eddie Urbano,” Klostreich said over the public-address system, his voice cracking, as he paused to gather himself.
“This team demonstrated that hard work, commitment, loyalty and sacrifice of what it takes to become champions,” Klostreich told the crowd as the wrestlers from Sunnyside and Cienega looked on captivated.
“One of the lessons I learned from the 1979 team that I still believe today is that you wrestle your matches the way you practice. They proved that in order to succeed in sports you must surround yourself with good people and great coaches. We could have never done this without our families because next to God, family is No. 1.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.