The Jacksons of Malibu joined together last weekend in sorrow and celebration, at once mourning the sudden loss of a father and husband while cheering on a son and brother at the California high school wrestling championships in Stockton.
Seven family members from around the country, and many friends, converged on the University of the Pacific to watch Greg Jackson compete.
Anyone who knows the Jacksons, or knows about them, is aware that wasn’t such a strange place for them to be.
Everyone agreed that Fred Jackson, the father of one of the most successful wrestling families in state history, would have wanted his youngest son to compete. So last Friday, three days after his father was killed in a car accident, Greg, a senior at Santa Monica High School, did.
A Southern Section champion for the third consecutive year, Greg reached the semifinals in the 145-pound class, regarded by many as the most competitive of the divisions, before losing to eventual winner Terry Watts of Caruthers, the wrestler who beat him in the quarterfinals last season.
Jackson then won the third-place match Saturday with a victory over Frankie Millsap of Spring Valley Monte Vista. “I was sitting there warming up and I started to think about my dad,” Greg recalled. “All this year, he had been in my corner during matches, so even during the match I got kind of emotional. I wrestled good and everything was fine physically, but it was still very painful.”
Grace, his mother, had come to provide support. Laurence, a three-time state champion at Santa Monica and one of the best high school wrestlers in the nation as a senior four years ago, left Oklahoma State to be with the family, and he was in Stockton, too.
So was Aaron, the oldest brother who competed at Oxnard Channel Islands and coached at Cal State Chico. A cousin came from school at Washington State, and countless others who weren’t related also made the trip.
“A lot of people in the wrestling community--people who knew Fred from the club programs as well as the high school--made a special trip to the meet to show their support,” Santa Monica Coach Norm Lacy said. “There was a tremendous amount of emotion.”
Fred Jackson spent the last 25 years involved in a variety of sports, but he was most prominent in wrestling, where he was as visible on the sidelines as his sons were on the mat.
He was an official and a coach for the first U.S. junior national team to go to Australia and, along with Grace and other parents, did his part driving the Jacksons and their teammates to competition around the country during summer. He also worked with the San Clemente-based California Jets age-group club and started the Malibu Wrestling Club. Fred and Grace rarely missed any meet involving their sons. Joe Seay, who started the wrestling program at Cal State Bakersfield, recalled seeing Jackson across the state, watching son after son, during Seay’s 12 years with the Roadrunners. Seay, who moved on to Oklahoma State, ended up coaching Laurence there, after Laurence had dominated the sport as few others in California have, winning six junior national titles.
“The Jackson name,” Lacy said. “If you were in the wrestling community, you knew of him. The Southern Section kids up there (at Stockton), almost all of them knew him. He touched an awful lot of individuals, by acquaintance and by name.”
He touched Greg Jackson, of course, more than the other competitors. Fred was 49 when, an accident in the late afternoon of Feb. 28 sent his car down a 300-foot embankment.
“I really wanted to win bad,” Greg said, his voice still trembling with emotion while he recalled the events a week later. “Under the circumstances, I wanted to win this one for my dad. Plus, it was my last high school match. I decided as soon as he died that I would go. My mom and my brothers, we talked about it. We were still at the hospital and we decided I should to go ahead and wrestle. We knew dad would have wanted me to.”