Reflections on the life of Deets Winslow

Wrestling communities in the Valley and throughout Northern California were jolted by the tragic death of Roger “Deets” Winslow, who was killed in a boating accident last Saturday, Aug. 9, at Lake Berryessa in Napa County.

It was shocking news to his family, and to the many people who knew and worked with Winslow in the Valley, especially at Sonoma Valley High School where he was a wrestling legend as both an athlete and longtime coach.

Winslow left a wrestling legacy that reverberated through California and into neighboring states. After establishing himself as a tough, technically efficient and highly competitive prep and college wrestling star, Winslow went on to become an accomplished high school coach, teacher and mentor at SVHS.

All sports have their unique cultures and fraternities of fans, but there exists in the world of wrestling a contagious passion for the sport that injects a sense of family into all its participants – the wrestlers, the coaches, the officials, the relatives and the fans.

This was Winslow’s world.

It started in the early 1980s when Deets’ father and name-sake, Roger Winslow, revitalized Sonoma wrestling and took it to a new level, including multiple Sonoma County League championships in 1984, ’85, ’86 and ’87, developing numerous North Coast Section standouts and state qualifiers, including his sons Deets and Travis.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Winslow took the grappling head-coaching helm and Sonoma wrestling never missed a beat.

Winslow – along with main assistant coaches Monty Schiestel, his high school teammate who coached under him the first 15 years, and Kyle Baird, the former head coach who took over for Winslow when he retired in 2010 – guided his Dragon teams to nine more SCL titles.

Winslow led Sonoma to five straight championships from 1993 to 1997, plus 2003, 2004, and back-to-back crowns in 2008 and 2009. He also capturing the school’s first North Coast Section wrestling banner as the NCS Redwood Empire Team Duals champion.

Between the father and son Winslows, the Dragons claimed their own Valley of the Moon Classic tournament crown eight times. And just as his father had the opportunity to coach his two sons, Winslow also got to coach his two sons, along with his daughter in other sports.

Winslow’s coaching philosophy and techniques, and his ever-present passion for the sport, inspired the young wrestlers he guided, many of whom stayed involved in the sport, giving back what they got by becoming coaches or working the mats as officials.

The outpouring of condolences and tributes following Winslow’s death, includes the following statements from those who knew, worked, or benefited from him.

“Deets and I first met when we were 8 years old, and we have been close friends ever since. I was honored when he asked me to be his assistant coach, and we had 15 great years together,” said Monty Schiestel. “Deets was not one to waste one moment of life being idle. If he wasn’t coaching, he was playing softball, or bowling, or boating, or golfing, or spending time at one of his children’s sporting events. I can’t even imagine the number of lives he has touched on and off the mat. He was more than a friend – I considered him my brother.”

Said another fellow coach Kyle Baird, “It was my privilege to coach with Deets for nearly a decade. On the mat, he was a fierce competitor. He poured his heart and soul into coaching and expected the same out of his wrestlers. For those outside the Sonoma wrestling family, he may have appeared overzealous. But he treated the Sonoma wrestlers as part of his family and looked out for them in all aspects of their lives. Once you really got to know Deets, you realized how compassionate he was. He would go out of his way to help and uplift others. He had the ability to pull the best out of others and help them realize their potential. He shared with me that some of his greatest momentsas a coach were not winning a title or having a wrestler go to state, but was when that wrestler who struggled all year finally won a match.

“The only thing he loved more than being on the mat was spending time with friends and family on the lake. He loved his wife and children more than words can express. To me, he was a mentor, a motivator and most of all a friend. You could not ask for a more dedicated husband, father, coach or friend. I will miss Deets, and I cherish the time we had, and I’m thankful for his friendship.”

Mick O’Meara, former SVHS athletic director and varsity football coach, had the following reflections: “As athletic director at SVHS, I had the pleasure to work with Deets for many years. Deets took over the wrestling program following his dad (Roger) at a very young age. He not only continued the Winslow tradition of success, but enhanced its presence in the SCL as well as the NCS and State. Deets personifies a ‘players coach.’ He was a phenomenal coach, tireless worker and a father-figure to his wrestlers. Deets was so loved and respected by his wrestlers because he was passionate about his sport and the personal success of everyone of his athletes. He had the uncanny ability to connect with the very smallest wrestler to the heavyweights. He made wrestling a family sport, everyone caring about everyone else.

“Even with all his accolades and championships what stood out the most to me was his sincere love and compassion for his athletes. He would do everything in his power to help them succeed in wrestling and in life. He will be sorely missed, not only in the wrestling community of Sonoma but in all of Sonoma Valley. I feel very fortunate to have had the privilege to work with Deets at SVHS during my tenure. Rest in peace.”

Brothers Dustin and Nick Pappas, who won league titles and sectional medals on their way to reaching the prestigious state championships, all under Winslow, said, in a written statement, “He expected greatness from us and believed in us more than we did in ourselves. Some of the most intense and emotional events in our life took place during wrestling season, and Deets was always there to support and guide us. We will be forever grateful. Flat out, we are better people because of Deets Winslow.”