John F. Russell: Wrestling legacy lives on

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His friends and wrestlers simply referred to him as "Big C".

During his life, "Big C" inspired state champions and laid the groundwork for a Steamboat Springs High School tradition that still drives young athletes to be the best.

If you don't believe me, just stop by the high school any weekday afternoon. There, just up the stairs from basketball practice, in the far corner of the school's weight room, Carl Ramunno's legacy lives on in the hearts of the Steamboat Springs wrestling team.

Gone are the days when the room was packed to capacity, gone are the days when wrestling duals were the biggest thing going on a Saturday night in Steamboat and gone, too, is the man who set it all in motion.

Ramunno, who retired in 1987 after 31 years as a coach, died four years ago, on Dec. 6, 1999. He was just 68.

However, from 1956 until 1987, Ramunno was a mainstay in Steamboat Springs wrestling.

His teams won six team titles and 28 individual state titles. And while none of the 15 wrestlers on this year's team was alive in 1968 -- the year that Ramunno led Steamboat to its last team title -- his influence can be felt through one of his former wrestlers, Jay Muhme, who is now the coach.

Muhme makes sure his wrestlers are aware of the school's tradition. It's the same one that has been passed through the halls of the high school for as long as anyone can remember.

But these days, wrestling usually takes place away from the bright lights and attention. While participation has increased this year, it's still a far cry from Ramunno's days.

But the sport hasn't changed.

Wrestling always has been about hard work and sacrifice -- not about getting noticed.

The small group of wrestlers that shows up every year acts as a reminder of a time when Steamboat was a dynasty in the state of Colorado, and wrestling was king. Those days are gone.

The team's last individual title came in 1995 when Mark Haight won on the floor of McNichols Arena in Denver.

By the way, McNichols also is gone.

Sure, today's athletes bring a wealth of enthusiasm to the mat, and they are still driven by the desire to win. Watching one of the team's practices will prove that.

For the next three months, the athletes on the Steamboat team will spend their weekends battling opponents on the mat and their weekdays paying their dues with workouts that can drain the energy from an 18-year-old.

They will have to watch their weight and display a dedication for their sport if they want a chance to go up against the state's best in February.

Yes, it's true that the times have changed, but the work it takes to be a success has not. Ramunno understood the sacrifices, and so do today's wrestlers.

It's kind of funny how this new generation of wrestlers unwittingly carries on the Ramunno tradition.

It wasn't all about winning, but proving that you had what it took to follow in the footsteps of the guy they called "Big C."

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