INDEPENDENCE — After Van Holstad stepped down as head wrestling coach at Central High School, assistant coach Arnold Garcia stepped up.
After 21 years as an assistant, Garcia will run the Panthers wrestling program, something he’s been looking forward to for quite some time.
“I was offered the head coaching job the year that Van got it,” Garcia said. “So I was offered it in the beginning of the summer, and then Van got hired as a teacher and they asked him if he had coaching experience, and he said yes, so he got it, because they needed someone in the school, which was fine with me, as long as I was going to be a part of the program. So for 21 years I’ve been sitting back, biding my time.”
He said the kids shouldn’t expect too many changes for next season, meaning the coaching change should be a much easier transition for them.
I don’t think it’s really going to be different,” Garcia said. “Van and I really clicked together, and I don’t think I’m going to make a lot of changes. I’m super glad that I got the position. I love coaching and I love wrestling. My goals are real simple: If a kid wants to be state champion, my goal is to help him reach that; If a kid wants to win one match, my goal is to help him reach that. If a kid wants a take-down for the first time in their lives, that to me is a big goal. Those are the things that make me love wrestling. The smile on their face when they get their first take-down, when they get their first win.”
He wants to make sure that the kids are always recognized for the work they put in on the mat.
“We coach the kid and they get better, but it’s all on them. If they don’t buy into the system, they don’t get better. So once they accomplish that, they should get the credit. Not the coaches.”
Garcia began wrestling when he was 6 years old. Born and raised in Independence, he wrestled for the Panthers, graduating in 1975.
“And I’ve always wanted to put back into the community because I felt like I left it without giving it my all,” he said.
Wrestling isn’t the only sport Garcia has coached.
“I coached my sons in little league; they started at 4,” he said, “and I coached them until they were 15. We won the 11-12-year-old state championship. I coached soccer because they wanted to play soccer; I coached basketball because they wanted to play basketball. I had no idea about basketball or soccer, but they wanted to play so I felt like, OK I can learn as they learn.”
Garcia’s two sons will join him as assistant and volunteer coaches this winter.
Taking on the head coaching position will come with some added responsibilities.
“I didn’t realize how much work it is,” Garcia said. “The having to recruit people to sponsor, and all that, that’s the hard part of it. That’s the pressure that I feel. Coaching, I could coach with anybody, so I don’t feel the pressure of coaching and teaching. Being involved outside the program, that’s where I feel pressure.”
The biggest challenge Garcia will face next year is how to get the community involved and excited about the program.
“I really need the support of the community,” he said. “If you look at Dallas and their support group, it’s what you need for a program to succeed. I believe our program could be just as successful. We’re all a football community or baseball or basketball, and wrestling has always been left on the back-burner. That’s the only thing I’d like: To get more people involved in it. And it starts with the kids’ program. And it starts with the parents not using it as a baby-sitting program, but as a way to prepare them for high school. We have a youth program that’s getting better, and hopefully it will keep getting better.”