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Perez Taking Another Run at the State Championship

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It took some fast taking--at least by the interpreter who Scott Glabb had to get to talk to Tony Perez’s parents. But it worked. And four years later, Perez is one of the best high school wrestlers in the state.

“It was kind of funny. Here I had this kid who had plenty of potential, but his parents didn’t want him to wrestle,” said Glabb, Santa Ana’s coach. “It wasn’t so much that they were worried about him wrestling, but about him coming home late at night.”

Glabb said Perez lived in an unsafe neighborhood where gang-related shootings were common.

“I, at least the coach that translated for me, told them that I would bring him home everyday after practice. I ensured them that I would take good care of him. It took a while, but they finally let him come out for wrestling,” Glabb said.

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Glabb still brings Perez home after practice and has no regrets about the promise he made four years ago.

“He’s got everything needed to be a state champ. Besides his quickness and endurance, he’s very bright . . . and he wants the title,” Glabb said.

Perez, 18, who wrestles at 103 pounds, was the big surprise last season at the state meet in Stockton. There, he won four consecutive matches and advanced to the championship final. Although he was defeated, 17-8, by Cleo Johnson of Firebaugh, Perez’s achievement was noteworthy since it was his first appearance at state finals.

“I was a little surprised how well I did last year,” Perez said. “I think even Coach was a little surprised. But my goal was to place at state, I guess I didn’t expect I’d take second.”

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Admitting his surprise over Perez’s finish, Glabb said he wasn’t surprised about his determination.

“He’s a hard worker who believes in himself. He’s everything you would want in a wrestler. He’s dedicated, he listens, he doesn’t get into trouble and he’s a good student,” Glabb said.

In addition to his wrestling, Perez also runs cross-country. Glabb said his dedication to running is as intense as it is on the mat.

“He’s been running cross-country for Santa Ana for the last four years. This last season was the first time Tony’s even broken through into the varsity ranks,” Glabb said. “He’s stuck with it for these last years, doing all the work and running. A lot of people would have given up. But he was determined to make the varsity team. And he did it.”

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Perez’s determination to run for the Saints’ varsity cross-country team was no small feat, considering Santa Ana has one of the best teams in the state. He competed in the state finals in Fresno last month.

Said Perez: “I did OK I guess. I finished about 100th. But that’s over now. I now have to focus on wrestling and start preparing for [Southern Section], Masters and state.”

The oldest of six children, Perez started wrestling when he was in seventh grade at Willard Intermediate in Santa Ana.

“It was part of physical education. There would be this big mat on the floor, and we would all sit around the mat and one person would get out there and wrestle,” Perez said.

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Perez said a wrestler would stay on the mat until he was defeated. He never lost a match, including those in two all-star tournaments in with other junior high schools.

Glabb said it was clear Perez had a lot of natural talent when he came to the wrestling room as a freshman. But he was also fortunate to have been able to work with state finalists and teammates Fernando Serratos, Ignacio Bahena and Sadie Morales.

“You couldn’t ask for better workout partners than those guys. They showed me a lot and they gave me encouragement,” Perez said.

The encouragement Perez received from these three wrestlers was crucial during his freshman and sophomore years.

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“It was tough for Tony his freshman year because Bahena dropped [in weight class] for Southern Section so Tony had to sit out. And in his sophomore year, he broke his elbow and he wasn’t able to go to division finals. But his determination and the encouragement from the other kept him going. And it paid off,” Glabb said.

Perez is ranked first in the state, but in the county poll, he’s ranked No. 2 behind Jarin Williams of El Modena. Three weeks ago, Williams beat Perez, 9-6, in the finals of the El Dorado tournament. But even in defeat, Glabb said Perez looked like he has the makings of a champion.

“It will be a couple of weeks before he starts getting his form back. So, I’m not worried about his loss. But even after he lost, Tony has such a great attitude. He has great sportsmanship,” Glabb said. “Most guys would be dwelling on [the loss] and be depressed. But when I asked Tony how he felt a couple of days later, he said he felt great. That’s why I think he’ll be back and he’ll be right there in February and March.”

With a 3.2 grade-point average, Perez is determined to be the first in his family to go to college. And although his father would prefer he stay home and find a job after he graduates from high school, Perez said he has his eyes set on college.

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“Tony really hasn’t gotten that much support from his parents,” Glabb said. “They have changed a little, but on the whole, he’s pretty much on his own. I think of all the matches he’s been in, they have only been to one.” Said Perez: “My parents haven’t been that supportive. I would like to go to San Diego State. Maybe keep wrestling if I can. If not there, I would like to go to Cal State Fullerton. But either way, I’m going to go to college.”


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