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Wildcats know what counts

Wrestling coach has largest turnout in five years
By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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Dan Parker never realized he was so popular at Whitney High School. When the wrestling coach held his first practice this season, he was greeted by 49 athletes ready and raring to go to work.

That was the largest turnout Parker has had in his five seasons with the Wildcats. He has rarely had much luck in getting students to give wrestling a try and then convincing them to stick with it.

“We had a lot of freshmen and sophomores come out,” he said. “That really boosted our numbers.”

That is evident in Parker’s roster. More than half of his wrestlers are freshmen (19) and sophomores (10). He has just seven seniors, so this season will build a foundation for the future.

“The freshman class is the biggest class on campus,” Parker said. “Down the road, it’s definitely going to pay off. If we can get them to stay the first year, most of them will come back out.”

Julio Ceron has kept coming back, so Parker uses the senior as an example to motivate his youngsters. Ceron was a two-time Pioneer Valley League champion in the 215-pound division.

Whitney now competes in the Capital Athletic League, so Ceron will face new opposition in his bid for a third league title. The Wildcats will open the CAL season at Rio Americano on Wednesday.

“He’s a pretty solid wrestler,” Parker said of Ceron, who won his weight class last week in the American River Classic tournament at Rio Americano.

Parker has another solid senior in Justin Martinez, who wrestles at 119 pounds. Parker talked Martinez into trying wrestling after coaching the freshman in football during the fall of 2007.

Martinez no longer plays football. He stuck with wrestling and is one of the team captains this season.

Whitney also has a girl who wrestles, as most schools do these days, and Parker chuckled when asked whether she can hold her own on the mat. As Parker said, Madison Fitzgerald is not to be taken lightly at 112 pounds.

“She competed in some varsity duals last year and won,” Parker said of Fitzgerald, a sophomore. “If a guy doesn’t take her seriously, he’s going to get beat by her. She’s a good wrestler.”

Parker is all for girls having an opportunity to compete against boys. Fitzgerald has proved they belong.

“It’s not a novelty. It’s more than that,” he said. “You have to look at them as wrestlers first and girls second.”