Catching up with former two-time state champion Ray Gulmatico

Ray and his two sons

The California Wrestler is pleased to share with you the wisdom of former two-time California state champion, Ray Gulmatico. Gulmatico competed for Lakewood High, situated in Southern California, and had an excellent career for the Lancers. Many great wrestlers have attempted to break Gulmatico’s records at Lakewood with little or no success. The following is a transcript of our conversation. Enjoy!

TCW – How long have you been involved in the sport of wrestling as a coach, and what schools/clubs have you been the head coach?
Ray – I got involved in coaching Wrestling in 1985 after college, and my first head coaching job was at Long Beach Poly High School where I was able to coach State Champion Antonio McKee. He became my little brother I never had, and we are still very close friends today. I coached at Cypress Jr College in the early 1990s. I had two daughters that excelled at soccer and became a soccer coach/dad for several years but Wrestling is just in my blood, and I returned to Long Beach Poly from 2009-2012. After that, I coached at Buena High School from 2013-2017.

TCW – I noticed you placed sixth at the CIF state tournament for Bancroft Junior High and not Lakewood High, can you elaborate a bit about this?
Ray – In 1978 there were a lot of high schools that were only 10-12 grade, and many junior high schools went from 7-9 grade. My father approached the CIF and asked that I be able to wrestle at Lakewood High School since other areas had the ability to wrestle in 9th grade. After some legal hurdles, CIF agreed to allow me to wrestle for Bancroft Jr High School as a freelance wrestle and compete against the high schools. My father just had to pay for all the sanctioning costs associated with the process. I believe to this day Bancroft is the only junior high school to have a CIF Champion in any sport in the state of California. It was a fun and exciting year. The only negative issue I had that year was misinformation given to us from CIF for weight certification forced me to have to wrestle up a weight class the entire year.

TCW – What did it mean for you to have won two CIF state titles and probably be the best wrestler to come out of the Long Beach/Lakewood area?
Ray – To be honest, I was disappointed because at the time my goal was to be the first 3 or 4-time state champion. Due to the weight misinformation in 9th grade, I only placed 6th. My sophomore year went on track, and I won my first state title. I broke my ribs my junior year and had to withdraw from the state tournament and then wrestled up a weight class my senior year and won my second title. Through the four years, I experienced ups and downs that prepared me for life. As an adult, I appreciate the accomplishment much more now than I did at the time.

TCW – Do your kids compete in the sport?
Ray – Yes, I have two boys that compete in Wrestling, and both of them love the sport. I let them play many sports early on, and both have decided that wrestling is the sport they focus on full time and they are both working very hard. It was vital for me to allow them to make their own choice of which sport they played and not just wrestle because dad did. They both are very committed and will make an impact on the sport. I get more nervous watching my kids wrestle than I ever did in my career.

TCW – Rumors are circulating you will be taking the head coaching job at Lakewood High, how excited are you for the opportunity?
Ray – Yes, I will be coaching at Lakewood, but I have lots of help from some very accomplished coaches that will make my job easy. I am Co-Head coaching with Randy Gonzalez this year whose son placed 3rd in the CIF State Championships at HWT this past season. Jack Schwartz ( LA Counties only coach to ever win a State Title )which was in 1981 is joining us along with Martin Bautista who is our Girls coach. We are a very young team with lots of potential, and I am very excited about the future.

TCW – Did you went on to compete in college after high school?
Ray – I initially committed to UCLA to compete, but due to Title IX, the program was dropped before I was able to attend. Wrestlers who were there when I committed were The Kistler brothers, the Shultz brothers, Fred Bohna and Gary Bohay. I was disappointed the program got dropped, I had offers from every major program in the country but chose to attend UNLV due to the new coach, Mark Churella who took over the program. I battled injuries through my college career, my final career-ending injury didn’t happen on the mat and was caused by putting my fist through a ticket booth window causing substantial permanent damage. Part of what I emphasize as a coach is to stay focused and don’t let your mind beat you.

TCW – What do you believe we as a state (California) need to do to compete with the powerhouse states in the country?
Ray – I believe it is essential for wrestlers to get as much national and international exposure as possible. I was able to travel all over and learn how to compete against different styles. We also need to put more emphasis on freestyle. Years ago, all offseason Wrestling was freestyle, and now it is much more limited. I believe California is and was a powerhouse state for Wrestling, but as a whole, we don’t get enough exposure to the rest of the countries styles.

TCW – Do you believe the sport of wrestling has evolved with more technique and moves than when you were in high school?
Ray – Wrestling has changed, but the athletes are competing at the highest levels are succeeding due to fundamentals. Kids nowadays have to learn how to interact in scrambles, but I believe it shouldn’t be a go-to but more of an option. If you stay in a solid position, it doesn’t give your opponent much opportunity.

TCW – What words of encouragement do you always preach to beginners when they want to quit the sport?
Ray – I think it is essential for beginners to understand that success doesn’t always come early and that it takes hard work to become a good wrestler. Wrestling is like life, you get knocked down, and you get right back up and keep focusing on your goals.