As a cheerleader for more than half her lifetime, 17-year-old Kayla Winslow roots for the hometown team.
Her community is returning the favor, though, cheering her on and supporting her efforts to honor her late father, Roger “Deets” Winslow, and his wrestling legacy at Sonoma Valley High School.
Kayla is spearheading an ambitious plan to improve the wrestling room at the high school, where she is a senior. She also is establishing a scholarship in honor of Winslow, the longtime head wrestling coach who died at age 49 in a tragic boating accident in 2014.
The effort is part of Kayla’s senior project, a graduation requirement at the campus. It’s something deeply personal and compelling for the Glen Ellen teen, who easily could have chosen a less complex and time-consuming project.
So far, she’s raised nearly $6,000 and dedicated far more than the 20 hours required by the school. She is committed to the project, an idea proposed by her father just a few months before his death.
“My dad said he wanted to surprise the wrestlers with new equipment,” Kayla said. “It’s very close to what I’m doing.”
She’s had “incredible” support from friends and strangers alike, who overnight donated more than $1,000 when she opened an online fundraising account. In just a few months, she exceeded her $5,000 goal and earned about $1,000 more through a fundraiser hosted by her project mentors, brothers Nick and Dustin Pappas of CrossFit Sav-Up in Petaluma, who wrestled under her father’s tutelage.
“They are the best mentors I could have asked for,” Kayla said. “They’re as dedicated to this project as I am.”
She’s been touched by donations and messages of support from former wrestlers, parents and even opponents, including one offering “love and support from the Vacaville wrestling moms.”
Although Kayla loved the excitement of cheering for touchdowns and field goals as captain of the Dragons varsity cheerleading squad (and was voted to the homecoming court), her heart has long belonged to wrestling.
“It’s always been a part of my family and who we are,” she said.
Her grandfather, Roger Winslow, revitalized the wrestling program at Sonoma Valley High School; Deets Winslow was inducted into the Dragon Hall of Fame as a wrestler and coach; Kayla’s uncle Travis Winslow and older brother Jordan Winslow were champion wrestlers. Plus, her younger brother Tyler Winslow qualified for North Coast Section competition last year as a freshman and is among the Dragons’ top wrestlers this season.
Kayla serves as team manager and “stat girl,” something she’s helped with since middle school. She handles details for the team and keeps track of wrestlers’ moves on the mat during matches and tournaments, jotting down notes for head coach Nico Saldana, who also wrestled for her dad, and his three assistants to review.
The fast-paced action has a scoring system that’s rather “complicated,” Kayla said. Even so, it’s satisfying to help the team.
“Wrestling takes a lot of dedication, a lot of hard work, and these guys are good guys on and off the mat,” she said.
She can’t recall a time she hasn’t somehow been engaged in wrestling. An old family photo shows her dad coaching with his two youngest children fastened to baby carriers, Kayla at his chest and her little brother on their dad’s back.
How to help
Kayla Winslow has set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for her project. To donate, go here.