John F. Russell: The king of state titles

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John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by John here.

— Last weekend’s championship football game between Steamboat Springs and Valor Christian reminded me just how special a state title is in a community like ours.

I’m sad to say that one of the men who truly understood the significance of a state title in Steamboat Springs is no longer with us.

Carl Ramunno, who died 10 years ago last Sunday, was a legendary wrestling coach who guided Steamboat Springs wrestling teams to six state titles from 1957 to 1984. His wrestlers also brought home 29 individual titles.

His teams were feared and respected, and his dynasty still is legendary in this valley and across the Western Slope. Many of his former athletes still live in our community, and longtime locals still recall the days when half the town would greet the team bus at the bottom of Rabbit Ears Pass as it made its way back home with a state title and a long parade of cars in tow.

Ramunno was a no-nonsense coach who demanded a lot from his athletes. He strived for excellence on the wrestling mat and in his classroom, too. He also was the kind of coach athletes looked up to and respected — not only because his wrestlers won, but because he had the ability to push them to new heights and help them achieve goals that they may have felt were simply out of reach.

I arrived in Steamboat a few years after Ramunno had stopped coaching the high school team, but lucky for me, wrestling was in his blood. He may have stopped coaching in 1984, but I would see him every February roaming the floor of McNichols Sports Arena in Denver during the state wrestling tournament. He loved the sport, and if you wanted to know the low-down on any of the matches on the floor, he was your guy.

At his memorial service, which was filled with former state champions, he was remembered as a good father and loving husband, a great teacher and an invaluable community member.

His legacy as a wrestling coach also was a part of the ceremony, but in many ways, it took a back seat to his ability to shape young lives.

He never forgot how special a state title could be, and he knew better than any coach I’ve ever met exactly what it took to win one. But his real impact came from the lessons he taught along the way.

Times have changed since Ramunno’s teams struck fear into wrestlers across the state. These days, Steamboat Springs High School teams compete in larger divisions and against an always-growing number of Colorado high schools. High school athletes train year-round for their sports, and parents and fans expect more in terms of success. Today’s athletes have goals that reach beyond high school to college athletics.

The truth is that getting to a state title game is tough, and bringing home a title is even tougher. I think that’s what makes state titles and coaches like Ramunno so memorable.

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