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National Wrestling Hall of Fame Honors Longtime San Clemente Coach

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National Wrestling Hall of Fame Honors Longtime San Clemente Coach

Mark Calentino (C) is awarded at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame lifetime service to wrestling award ceremony at the Laguna Hills Community Center in Laguna Hills, Calif., on Aug. 20, 2023. (Courtesy of John Hamro)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

8/24/2023

Updated: 8/24/2023

Longtime former wrestling coach at San Clemente High School in Southern California, Mark Calentino, experienced quite the full-circle moment Aug. 20.
Honored by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame with its lifetime service to wrestling award in a ceremony that this year, fortuitously, took place at the Laguna Hills Community Center, Mr. Calentino couldn’t help but notice remarkable symmetry.
“I’m standing on the stage and the first thing I said was this whole journey started about 250 yards from where I’m standing right now because the community center is right below Laguna Hills High School,” Mr. Calentino told The Epoch Times.
Following his own prep wrestling career at Laguna Hills, Mr. Calentino went on to remarkable coaching success at San Clemente. In his 32 seasons as head man, the Tritons amassed a 426-98-2 record while winning 18 league championships and six CIF Southern Section titles, including in each of his final three seasons.
“He is just an incredible human being who is humble, not a credit-taker. He’s all about the kids,” San Clemente High Athletic Director Jon Hamro told The Epoch Times. “What kept him in the business are the relationships he’s built with coaches, even competing coaches, and his athletes.”
The guest list for the Hall of Fame festivities exemplified exactly that. Among those in attendance were Mr. Calentino’s own high school coach, Del Schwartz; his coaches at Golden West College, Dale Deffner and Raul Duarte; and even 90-year-old Erwin Goldbloom, who coached Mr. Calentino on a junior college all-star team that toured Japan in 1982.
National Wrestling Hall of Fame lifetime service to wrestling award ceremony at the Laguna Hills Community Center in Laguna Hills, Calif., on Aug. 20, 2023. (Courtesy of John Hamro)

National Wrestling Hall of Fame lifetime service to wrestling award ceremony at the Laguna Hills Community Center in Laguna Hills, Calif., on Aug. 20, 2023. (Courtesy of John Hamro)

Unbeknownst to Mr. Calentino in advance, former college teammates David Gatian, David Beaver and Ryan Shackleford were also on hand for the Hall of Fame banquet, having traveled from Ohio, Virginia, and Idaho, respectively.
“You could have knocked me over with a feather,” Mr. Calentino said. “I’m like, ‘What are you doing here?’ They said they wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
The National Wrestling Hall of Fame relies on committees from each of its state chapters to make nominations. Ten Californians received honors this year, bringing to 189 the number from the state recognized all-time.
In addition to the lifetime-service distinction, the organization also gives out an Outstanding American award to wrestlers who are highly successful in other walks of life, and a Medal of Courage to those who have overcome extraordinary challenges.
Each member receives a plaque and jacket, and is recognized both online and at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
“We also have our distinguished members, the greatest wrestlers in history, and every one of those 204 can tell you who was their first coach, their high school coach,” Hall of Fame Operations Manager Jack Carnefix told The Epoch Times.
National Wrestling Hall of Fame ceremony at the Laguna Hills Community Center in Laguna Hills, Calif., on Aug. 20, 2023. (Courtesy of John Hamro)

National Wrestling Hall of Fame ceremony at the Laguna Hills Community Center in Laguna Hills, Calif., on Aug. 20, 2023. (Courtesy of John Hamro)

For a countless number of wrestlers at San Clemente over the past three-plus decades, that coach was Mr. Calentino.
“Routinely, he would have teams of 100 kids,” Mr. Hamro said. “A lot of kids that did not have a place in our athletic program found a spot in wrestling. That kind of depth certainly paid dividends with success on the mat, but the fact the kids felt like they were important kept them coming back. When they showed up, they worked hard, and that really translated into the success that he had.”
Including brief stints as an assistant at Laguna Hills and as head man at Los Amigos-Fountain Valley, Mr. Calentino’s coaching career spanned 35 years. He continued to offer support as an assistant at San Clemente last season, after having stepped down in 2022.
Now, though, other than continuing to teach science, possibly helping in the Tritons’ baseball program is about all that’s on his agenda.
And even after all of that, not to mention having run more than 250 wrestling tournaments over the years, the Hall of Fame honor, he said, remains difficult to grasp.
“Amazement, like this can’t be real,” Mr. Calentino said, recalling his initial reaction to the news. “I know people that have been inducted, I’m like, ‘I’m not one of these people.’ I suppose you’d say it’s humbling that people perceive me that way because that’s certainly not who I perceive myself as.”
National Wrestling Hall of Fame ceremony at the Laguna Hills Community Center in Laguna Hills, Calif., on Aug. 20, 2023. (Courtesy of John Hamro)

National Wrestling Hall of Fame ceremony at the Laguna Hills Community Center in Laguna Hills, Calif., on Aug. 20, 2023. (Courtesy of John Hamro)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

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Dan Wood is a community sports reporter based in Orange County, California. He has covered sports professionally for some 43 years, spending nearly three decades in the newspaper industry and 14 years in radio. He is an avid music fan, with a strong lean toward country and classic rock.

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