Competitive wrestling is not one of life’s glamor sports. It requires a high pain threshold, the ability to repeatedly lose (and sometimes gain) weight at will, and to spend a great deal of time on one’s knees. And wrestling teams seldom fill stadiums.
It is relatively rare, therefore, that a wrestling team and a wrestling coach become icons of any school’s athletic program.
But thanks to Roger “Deets” Winslow – everyone called him Deets – Sonoma Valley High School was something of an exception and the man who made the difference was Deets.
Deets died Saturday afternoon in a boating accident on Lake Berryessa, far too early in an active and acclaimed life. The statistical record of his coaching career is exceptional, and although he stepped down from his role as head coach of the Dragons wrestling team in 2010, he continued as an assistant coach, mentor and inspiration behind Kyle Baird.
Deets, with then-assistant coach Baird, guided the Dragons to nine SCL titles, along with the 2008 NCS Redwood Empire Team Duals championship.
Winslow also coached countless Dragons to sectional medals and state-meet appearances, led numerous Sonoma teams to tournament titles and was a key catalyst in the success of the annual Valley of the Moon Classic.
But statistics alone aren’t the measure of anyone, and it was the leadership Deets modeled that truly defined him.
During Deets’ last year as coach, the Dragons won the league title with six first-year wrestlers. That’s slightly unheard of, but it suggests the coaching strategy and the family atmosphere that permeated the team.
“I’ve always made my experienced wrestlers teach the new kids every day,” Winslow told Index-Tribune sports editor Steven Serafini before he retired. “I’ve been doing that for 20 years and it always pays off. For the older kids to put in that effort is tough. This season is long and can really become a grind.”
In an email to friends and family, Kyle Baird shared these thoughts about his friend and coach: “It was my privilege to coach with him for nearly a decade. He treated the Sonoma Wrestlers as part of his family and looked out for them in all aspects of their lives. He will be dearly missed by myself, Sonoma wrestling and the wrestling community.”
To which we can only add our deepest sympathies to his children, his wife and the generations of Sonoma wrestlers who learned not just how to grapple on the mat, but to work together as a cohesive group toward a common goal.
Deets Winsow was a rare human being and a gift to those who knew him.