A coach's reward: Unfading glory

Years after his death, Ramunno will be inducted into hall of fame

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Carl Ramunno was involved in coaching for the rewards, not the awards.

Nonetheless, this summer, 5 1/2 years after his death, the former Steamboat Springs wrestling coach will be inducted into the National High School Athletic Coach-es Association's Hall of Fame.

Ramunno's wife, Marilyn, who lives in Steamboat, and their five children and their 14 grandchildren are planning to attend the June 29 ceremony in Orlando, Fla.

Ramunno received the NHSACA National Coach of the Year award in 1988, but this is the first national Hall of Fame induction for Ramunno.

"He's still winning awards, old 'Big C'," Joe Ramunno, the couple's youngest son, said Friday. "Mom is making it so everyone can go and make it a huge ordeal. He wasn't really all that into awards. His biggest reward came from the relationships he had with all those men that went through Steamboat Springs High School."

Carl "Big C" Ramunno was the varsity wrestling coach from 1956 to 1987. During that time, the Sailors won six state team titles and crowned 27 individual state champions, including Joe Ramunno, the 1980 champion at 185 pounds.

After his state title, Joe picked up his father -- and coach -- in celebration. It is a moment Joe, now the head football coach at Mesa State College, will never forget.

"He was a true model," Joe said. "He treated me just like everybody else. It didn't matter if you were a star or on the C team or whatever. He treated you the same. He was very special. I wish I could be half the coach he was."

All three of Carl and Marilyn's sons -- John, Tony and Joe -- are football coaches. The couple's daughters -- Carolyn and Kathy --married men who are football coaches.

For those who wrestled under or worked with Ramunno, it is easy to understand why his children found it desirable to follow in their father's footsteps.

"He was an unbelievable guy," said Tod Allen, Steamboat wrestler from 1969 to 1972. "I'm 52 years old, and I still think about things he told me when I was a kid, which is amazing. ... He had a huge impact on me, and I know hundreds of other guys. He knew how to push kids to their limits but still keep them exited about the sport. He did instill that winning attitude. Even if you were going up against a three-time state champ, you went out on the mat with the idea you could win."

Probably because Ramunno pulled the wrestler aside and said something such as "They put their pants on one leg at a time just like you."

"He had all kinds of phrases," Allen said. "We would be losing weight, and he would say 'A hungry dog hunts best,' or 'When you're bent over like an antelope in a windstorm don't come crying to me.'"

Discipline played an important role in the development of Steamboat's wrestlers. Con-ditioning bred confidence and created toughness. Wrestlers ran stairs and climbed ropes without using their legs. Some of Ramunno's affection for disciplined programs came during his military stint in Korea, Marilyn Ramunno said.

The newlyweds moved to Steamboat Springs in 1956 after Ramunno returned from Korea. He became the industrial arts teacher at the high school, where he taught for 37 years. It was common for his students -- even those who never played sports -- to call him "Coach."

But it wasn't the success of the program that necessarily stands out to Ty Lockhart, a wrestler from 1963 to 1965. It was the manner in which Ramunno ran it.

"Integrity would be a big word," Lockhart said. "He was a class guy."

Lockhart told a story about making weight. He remembers an instance where a teammate failed to make weight, and another wrestler tried to help that teammate cheat. Lockhart had made weight legitimately and approached Ramunno about what he had seen.

"(The team) had a lecture on how we were going to make weight correctly," Lockhart said. "He was upset. It took one day to get the problem solved. He wanted to maintain the integrity of the team."

More than a dozen Steam-boat wrestlers went on to wrestle in college. The opportunity to wrestle at a higher level pushed many Sailors into higher education who otherwise may not have gone on to college, Lockhart said.

No one had a bigger heart when it came to teaching and coaching than Ramunno. Un--fortunately, a weak heart brought about his death at age 68, Marilyn said. Steamboat has been blessed to have tremendously gifted high school coaches for the past half century, and they all share one common thread: emphasis on team.

"I thought about it a lot actually on why (Ramunno) was so successful," Lockhart said. "You weren't wrestling for yourself. You were wrestling for the team. There was a real strong team camaraderie and team spirit. Everybody would just feel horrible if the team lost. Of course, we didn't lose much. We didn't want to disappoint him. We were kind of wrestling for him."

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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