I had just recently returned from the second of two thoroughly enjoyable family weekend events to find out the extremely bad news that Deets Winslow, a Sonoma Valley High School wrestling legend as both an athlete and longtime successful coach, was killed in a boating accident at Lake Berryessa, and, suddenly, life was put into perspective.
The fragility of life was exposed by the reality that every moment’s precious, and I had to put my good feelings on hold so I could buoy myself for a tragedy.
As I wrote in last Friday’s, Aug. 15, I-T front page story on Deets, his death was shocking news to the highest order to so many people who knew him and worked with him in the Valley, and especially the Sonoma Dragons wrestling program, which he made one of the best at the prep level in the North Bay and throughout Northern California.
It hadn’t been long since Deets’ took over the established and multi-title-winning Sonoma wrestling program from his father and name-sake, Roger Winslow, when I started as the I-T sports editor in 1991, and, being a life-long athlete, as well as a coach and a sports writer and columnist, I quickly connected with his dedication, drive and, especially, passion for his sport.
Up until his death I was still communicating with him about wrestling and covering his youngest son’s youth grappling success – he coached his older son all the way to state – under his coaching and, though he had retired in 2010, his competitive, compassionate and unwavering heart for the boys and girls who wrestled for him still had a strong beat.
In my two-plus decades of covering Deets, he, along with his 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 when he retired, directed their Dragons to nine SCL titles and the school’s first North Coast Section wrestling team duals championship.
For the Friday story on Deets, I included tributes I received from both the wrestling community and former fellow coaches and friends, and, unable to fit them all into the story, I’m putting more into this column.
A memorial in Deets’ honor will be held in Sonoma Valley High School’s Golton Hall, which is Sonoma wrestling’s “Dragons Den,” at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 23.
“After his father Roger (Winslow) established the highly successful Sonoma wrestling program, Deets took it to a whole higher level as competitive sports intensified, and going on to win a challenging sectional title was impressive. He was the epidomy of what a coach should be, with a dedication to his family, and a value to the Valley,” said Phil Rosemurgy, former successful Sonoma head varsity basketball coach, who led the 1994 Dragon boys to the school’s first NCS championship.
“I admire the entire Winslow family for helping mold and shape many young men through their passion of life and stellar wrestling program. Deets Winslow was a great man, husband and father. He picked up where his father left off with the wrestling program and raised the bar even higher,” said Bob Midgley, the SVHS co-athletic director and head varsity football coach. “He got so much out of his students and that is because to know him was to love him. He was an excellent teacher driven to have all of his kids shine and that was his real reward.”
“Deets was an incredible coach, mentor, father and role model for everyone who was lucky enough to get close to him. He has touched many lives throughout the years and I know that nobody will forget the positive impact he made on us all,” said Giordi Serafini, a former standout Dragon wrestler and team co-captain who was a league title winner and sectional medalist. “I’ll miss him very much, but his powerful voice will always ring in my ears.”
“He taught the Sonoma wrestling community about perseverance and gave many wrestlers hope on and off the mat. He touched the lives of thousands throughout his career and he changed Sonoma wrestling as well as Sonoma wrestlers. His philosophy of never giving up and going a little bit past the home stretch will inspire future generations of wrestlers,” said Aidan Lacy, a former standout Dragon wrestler and team co-captain who was a league title winner, sectional medalist and state qualifier. “I remember when I saw him last, driving from the developmental center where he worked drinking a soda and smiling as he drove home in his truck on a bright sunny day. I will remember him as I did on that day, a man who was happy and content with his life.”
“Deets prepared the children of our community with lessons on the mat that have helped them become successful young men and women. His love of family, spirit and passion for life have been passed on to them. They will all say, ‘I wrestled for Deets,’ with pride. RIP our friend.” said Chris Pappas, father of Dustin and Nick Pappas, wrestling brothers who excelled under Winslow, winning league titles and sectional medals on their way to reaching the prestigious state championships.