That was when Casta eda realized he didn’t have a place to wrestle after exceeding the age limit for competing with the Boys & Girls Club of San Fernando Valley, where he had been wrestling since elementary school. He was ready to attend Sylmar High, a school without a wrestling program. Thanks to Casta eda’s determination, Sylmar became the City’s 14thteam last year after joining the Valley League. The senior spent his freshman and sophomore years researching what it would take to reinstate a wrestling program. Casta eda compiled information and estimated it would cost about $20,000 to buy the necessary equipment. He then submitted it to Casey Browne, the schools assistant principal in charge of athletics. “I started bugging (administration) like hell, man,” the 18-year-old Casta eda said. “They got the hint that I wasn’t going to stop. But sometimes I thought, `Why am I doing this? You can’t make a dog talk.’ “But I stuck with my passion and continued to try everything.” Browne supported Casta eda’s idea and efforts, but there was one thing needed to get the program started. “I just told him if we could find an experienced wrestling coach, I would do everything I could to get this thing going,” Browne said. “(Casta eda) is the reason wrestling is back at our school.” Casta eda got help from Dianne Downey, the Boys & Girls Club wrestling coordinator. The Boys & Girls club is akin to a feeder system to San Fernando Valley wrestling programs, and they have reaped huge benefits from it. She told Casta eda to give Phillip Guerrero, an assistant coach at Canoga Park at the time, a call along with a few tips on how to organize a program. Guerrero accepted an offer in June 2005 to become the Spartans’ first coach since Bill Lake, who coached Sylmar from 1980-83. Guerrero coincidently had just moved into the area and took the job despite not being assured a faculty position. He was later hired as a psychology teacher. “I thought I was done with coaching,” said Guerrero, 35. “That this kid got this going, I was surprised. Night and day the support for this program grew. The administration has been very supportive and it was nice to see a great number of kids come out and try out.” More than 40 students showed up the first day of tryouts despite the school not having a mat. Team practices were held on the blacktop in the physical-education area. Wrestlers were limited to techniques that didn’t require tumbling on the hard surface. It wasn’t until Downey and the Boys & Girls Club helped out that someone in the Cal State Northridge athletic department donated a mat that was used by the Toreadors wrestling team in the 1970s. “That mat was hard as hell,” Guerrero said. “It was in poor condition. It was red and had a big N in the middle. “Our school colors are blue. When we went to other schools the kids would ask me why the mats there were soft. I told them those were cheap mats to keep them from realizing we had a crappy mat.” Sylmar didn’t get a new mat until a month into this season, with the help of the administration, donations and fund raising. Browne said costs ranged between $20,000 and $25,000 for uniforms, trophies, equipment and the mat. The number of wrestlers trying out last year decreased in half after finding out practices had to be held at 6 a.m. That’s because the crowded school didn’t have a place for the team to practice. The Spartans share the school’s multipurpose room with other clubs, and they often have to schedule practices around academic events. Guerrero cut a practice short recently because the school was holding a blood drive in the same room. “It’s all a matter of scheduling around the events,” Guerrero said. “Everyone tends to forget that we are here because we are new, but as long as these kids get to practice it’s worth the hassle.” The program is still in its developmental stages. The Spartans finished with a 2-2 dual meet record and showed signs of progression by winning the Novice Reseda Tournament. However, Casta eda did not make the starting lineup and will not compete at the City finals. But finishing his wrestling career at Sylmar without making the starting lineup doesn’t bother him too much. “I think my dream came true,” Casta eda said. “I did something that a lot of people never thought I could do. I am glad I will leave here knowing I had something to do with bringing back the sport that I love. Wrestling may be done for me but it will go on for others.” [email protected] (818) 713-3607 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Casta eda was stuck. At 14, he couldn’t be without the sport he loved. But with a family full of Sylmar alumni, going to San Fernando High was not an option. “There was no way I was going to San Fernando,” Casta eda said. “My mom would probably disown me and I could be living on the streets. “No, maybe not that bad, but I know she and my family wouldn’t like it much.” Instead, the Sylmar senior wrestler thought he’d have a better shot at bringing back the sport Sylmar abandoned in 1983. So Casta eda fought for it. The Spartans completed their second season Saturday at the City Section championships at San Fernando High. In all, Sylmar was represented in 13 weight divisions, with Jorge Rodriguez taking second place in the 103-pound division. SYLMAR Juan Casta eda thought his wrestling days were finished four years ago after completing middle school.