Coach Reed Roberts shares his memories of that special time
GUNNISON—This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Gunnison Valley High School wrestling team being the first and only within Sanpete County to win a state championship.
When members of that winning team gather on Feb. 5, they will be celebrating not only the past championship but also their coach, Reed Roberts, although Roberts claims the team’s success wasn’t because of anything he did.
Roberts grew up in Gunnison, a block or two from where he lives now. He attended Gunnison Valley High School, but back then, it didn’t have a wrestling team. Instead, he participated in basketball and baseball before graduating in 1962.
Played on Ward Teams
Roberts also became an involved and active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. His father was not a member, and his mother was not very active. But Roberts loved playing on the church’s softball and volleyball teams and became an active member in the church because of it.
His ward teams played in tournaments the church would host in Salt Lake City, where teams from all over the United States participated. He was able to participate in the softball and volleyball tournaments for four years during high school, and in 1962, his small Centerfield church team won the tournament against teams from places like California, Arkansas, and many others.
He compares the experience to his wrestling team; they had a good bunch of kids who would play ball all summer instead of doing anything else.
The community spirit and support he experienced was the reason he went on his two-year mission after a semester at Snow College. He served from 1963 to 1965 in the Great Lakes Mission, which encompassed three states: He went to Ohio first, then Michigan, and then Indiana. His experience was great, but he mentions that if you’re there, you need a compass to know which direction you’re going since there are no mountains as reference points.
Drafted into Army
After returning home from his mission, Roberts planned to attend Snow College once again, but three days before classes began, he was drafted into the military. He was sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for basic training and then to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, for his advanced training.
While in El Paso, he met his wife, Josie Roberts, in a church parking lot. After dating for a few months, Roberts brought news to his mother that he was being deployed to Vietnam, then told her he was getting married as well.
They were married in Mesa, Arizona, in 1966, and have been married for 56 years. Shortly after their marriage, Roberts was deployed for a year to Vietnam, returning in 1967. They finished out his military career stationed in Washington.
Roberts then attended school at Snow College and graduated in 1969 with his associate’s degree. While there, he played baseball for two years, as well as basketball and football. He made the football team without any experience because they didn’t cut anybody, he added.
“I tell everybody I played three positions all at once: guard, tackle and end,” he continued. “I sat on the end of the bench, guarded the water bucket, and tackled anybody that came to take it.” Despite not playing very much, it was a great experience for Roberts.
After receiving his associate’s degree, Roberts, Josie and their first son moved to Cedar City, where he attended Southern Utah State College, now known as Southern Utah University, graduating with his bachelor’s degree in the spring of 1971. Since he had to work while in school, he did not have time to play sports while attending SUSC.
Taught 34 Years
Roberts says he would have continued living in Cedar City, but no job opportunities were available there. So in 1971, he and his wife moved back to Gunnison, where he taught for 34 years at Gunnison Valley High School and seven years at Snow College.
Within its first few years at GVHS, the newly created wrestling team had a different coach each year. After three years, Roberts became the wrestling, cross-country and track coach despite not having ever played any of the sports himself. He continued to coach for 19 years before retiring.
Roberts enjoyed the cross-country program, where members would run 3-5 miles after school, while he rode alongside on his motorcycle.
Built Wrestling Program
He also says they had a successful wrestling program, which developed out of the physical education classes he taught to seventh and eighth graders. He included a unit on wrestling in the PE courses and organized a little league program for younger students to get them some experience.
Roberts added that a lot of wrestlers were also members of the cross-country team, for conditioning reasons more than anything else. He said running cross country helped them be in good physical condition for wrestling season.
Being a wrestler took a lot of discipline. Eating Thanksgiving and Christmas goodies had to be put on hold until the end of the season so the students could qualify for their weight classes.
Roberts’ second-oldest son, Steven, who became a member of the team, had his birthday in the middle of wrestling season. The Roberts would bake a cake, blow out the candles and stick the cake in the freezer until after the season ended.
The first individual state champion from Gunnison was a young man named Terry Pickett in 1974, who won during Roberts’ third year as coached. There were several more after that. Roberts’s sons, Steven, and his eldest, Michael, were both two-time state champions.
The wrestling program was not about the coach, Roberts said. “The wrestling program was about good family support and good kids.” He praises the work ethic of the students, most of whom were from farm families. He appreciated the parents allowing their students to leave their farms and dairies to come, practice, and participate in wrestling.
In 1982, the state meet was held at Weber State University. Gunnison was undefeated, with a score of 8-0 in team duels. The team had won every tournament except one in Wayne County, which they lost because of key wrestler being injured.
At the end of the first day at the state meet, Gunnison had so many points that they were guaranteed to win, even if they lost everything else—and they did lose almost everything else. “It just proved that it was a team effort,” Roberts’ wife, Josie, said.
In fact, it was an avalanche. Gunnison had a final score of 111 and a half points, with South Summit coming in second at 83 points.
This was also the year that Roberts was recognized as the region and state Coach of the Year. The recognition was voted and presented by other wrestling coaches throughout the state.
“It was a good reward for the kids and the community, for the school. I felt that. It never was for my accolades, I was thrilled for the kids,” Roberts explains. “My success is not in wins, but in the good quality of the young men… and my association with the kids.”
Out of the kids Roberts coached, he considers a lot of them to be very successful. A few have become doctors, lawyers, professors, and businessmen. He believes they have been successful because of the discipline and work habits they learned through the wrestling program.
David Dyches, one of Roberts’ former wrestles, said, “Coach Roberts is a truly great man who made a difference in thousands of young people’s lives as a teacher, especially those of us who had him as a wrestling coach. He and his wife were and continue to be great examples.”
Wrestling was Roberts’ only adventure. He also spent 10 years with Double Dutch Catering, a catering business that catered couples’ clubs, class reunions, hospital events and more. Later, he continued culinary arts in a program Snow College operated at the Central Utah Correctional Facility. He also taught driver’s education.
During his summers as a teacher, he managed Gunnison City Swimming Pool and did some construction work.
Nowadays, Roberts is retired and loves spending time with his family. He talks to and visits with his four children often, and his grandchildren visit him every day. “I have a full-time job, I really do,” Roberts said. “I’m in charge of the remote control.”
When he can get away, he goes fishing with a friend and takes his grandchildren along. Roberts and his wife are also active in the Gunnison Valley Senior Citizens Center.
After 40 years, Roberts says it is neat to get everyone together, since he doesn’t see some of “the kids” very often anymore. He looks forward to seeing everyone, and for everyone to see one another as well.