HS Wrestling: Lovell’s ‘passion’ lives on in 50th year of tournament

Pat Lovell, 81, died earlier this year after battling through several health issues. — Contributed

The coaches of the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League last year made the decision to rename the California Coast Wrestling Classic to the Pat Lovell Holiday Classic.

In retrospect, the dedication was long overdue.

“It probably should’ve been done a few years ago,” said former Aptos wrestling coach Reggie Roberts, “but he was so humble he probably would’ve told us no.”

Lovell, 81, a man who wore several hats while contributing to high school athletics in Santa Cruz County for nearly 30 years, died in late November after battling several health issues.

The former SCCAL Commissioner was on hand for the dedication last year, but his absence during the 50th edition of the tournament today will leave a gigantic hole in the hearts of a wrestling community so accustom to his gregarious, fun-loving personality.

“The wrestling community, at large, is still feeling the loss,” said Roberts, who helped organize the tournament this year despite retiring from his post at Aptos at the conclusion of last season.

Lovell was a three-sport athlete at Sequoia High in Redwood City, a wrestling and football stud at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and a member of the U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling team in 1964. He was inducted into both Sequoia and Cal Poly’s Hall of Fames, and was roommates  with NFL coaching great John Madden during his time in S.L.O. — they played opposite each other on the offensive line.

He transitioned to teaching, coaching and refereeing after his time on the mat, holding positions at James Lick High in San Jose, Monte Vista in Cupertino and Cabrillo College. He coached football and softball, in addition to wrestling, for a quarter century.

He was also a football referee for 35 years, and a wrestling official for 45, earning the mantle of USA Wrestling’s Official of the Year in 1974 and ’75 and being inducted into the California Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2000.

He was also inducted into the Cabrillo College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018.

Lead Official Mike Harr, Roberts and several other coaches are expected to say a few words about Lovell before the action gets underway today, and his daughter, Allison, will present one wrestler with the Pat Lovell Character Award — an honor given to the wrestler who goes “above and beyond” of what is expected, according to Roberts.

“The tournament has always been Pat’s baby,” said Roberts, who credited Lovell with helping build the tournament into the two-day, 60-plus school event it is today. “He took pride that this county hosted one of the toughest tournaments in the state. It was his chance to share something that he was passionate about, and that was wrestling.”

Santa Cruz County high school athletics was up there, too.

“Whether it was as a coach or as commissioner, he really cared about the kids,” said Watsonville cross country and track coach Rob Cornett.

Cornett knew Lovell as both. He played football under Lovell at Cabrillo during the early ‘80s, and later worked hand-in-hand with Lovell during his time as Watsonville’s athletic director.

As a coach, Cornett said Lovell was a comedian who was always trying to get players in trouble with head coach Joe Marvin. His go-to move: making funny faces to distract them while Marvin barked out orders during a defensive meeting.

As a commissioner, he soothed many squabbles between athletic directors, coaches, parents and officials by reminding them what was most important: the kids.

“He knew how to make you laugh, and he knew how to make you a better person — that’s who he was,” Cornett said. “He was always the guy trying to break the tension. He was always looking to do the right thing at the right time.”

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