Dynasties, by definition, are about domination. The word comes from the Greek word “dunasteia,” describing lordship and power. It also speaks to a succession of people, heredity or otherwise, that sustain a high level of excellence or control.
Sports dynasties, however, are more about evolution than creation because many great teams never won championships. And sports dynasties, when they happen, are as much about timing as they are about talent — particularly if there hasn’t been one before.
San Fernando High has built the first Los Angeles City Section dynasty in girls’ wrestling, which didn’t become a sanctioned championship sport for girls until 2013. The team title the Tigers won on Saturday, Feb. 15, at Birmingham Charter High School, was its fourth in a row and sixth in eight years. And the team scored 339.0 points on Saturday, beating the record of 306.5 points it set last year.
“Don’t forget the boys have been champions (17 times),” said Head Coach Fernando Gonzalez.
But right now the top boys’ team resides at Birmingham High, which has won the last three City championships, including Saturday. And the boys have been wrestling for sanctioned titles since 1974.
The first great girls’ program is located here. San Fernando High reminded everyone there of that by putting 11 wrestlers in the 14 finals and winning seven individual championships — Evelyn Vazquez (106-pounds); Samantha Larios (131-pounds); Natalie Castenada (137-pounds); Desiree Fuentes (150-pounds); Alyssa Arana (160-pounds); Viviana Romo (170-pounds) and Adelina Parra (189-pounds).
The team will now pursue a second straight state CIF title on Feb. 27-29 in Bakersfield. San Fernando will have 13 eligible wrestlers for the 14 weight classes for the girls’ meet. Seven of them won City titles. Four others finished second and two finished third to qualify.
Simply put, the Tigers have created a working model for girls that other schools will measure themselves against, and either try to emulate or at least figure out a way to compete.
“First of all, it’s the kids themselves; they work hard,” said Gonzalez, when asked about the program’s success. “But you’ve also got to have a good coaching staff, and I think I have the best around in Jess Arana, Anthony Figueroa, Ellis Trotter, Lorenzo Chapman, Sergio Mendez and Jimmy Estrada.
“I think we develop them well as wrestlers. We’ve had girls who, coming in, had been through state and national meets in middle school and below; some were as young as five. But there are also the girls here who are pretty new to wrestling. Some don’t start until the ninth grade. But [with the coaching and help of the seasoned wrestlers] they’re able to develop into more of an elite level.”
What every girl who goes through the program receives is the training and the support to become as good as she wants to be.
Romo, 16, a sophomore, won her first title on Saturday. She has a 37-5 match record this season, proof that all the training and work she has put in was worth all the soreness and bruises it took to become a champion.
“I would stay after practice and do extra drills with the coaches,” Romo said. “I do all the running. I would add layers [of clothing] to make me sweat even though I didn’t have to cut weight. The coaches told me it would take hard work and determination to be a champion. And no matter what came my way, I had to persevere through it.”
Arana, 15, a sophomore and a two-time champion, is 41-0 so far this season. She noted how much stronger she is emotionally and psychologically from the Tigers way of doing things.
“Last year it felt everyone just knew more than I did,” Arana said. “But it’s also about the culture here; everyone is connected in some way. It’s not just a team, it is a family — that’s the best way to put it.”
Parra, 17 a senior, is also 41-0 this season and — as a four-time City champion — the best combination of talent and determination on the team. This will also be her fourth trip to the state meet: she has won once and finished second twice, including last year.
When new people come into the program, “I tell them the culture here is really good,” Parra said. “All the girls here are really dedicated to the sport. They are hard workers, and [new] wrestlers aren’t always like that when they first come into the room. They think they know what hard work is, then they find out what hard work is when they come into the room.”
Gonzalez, who’s been teaching and coaching here since 1996, also credits the DNA of the City of San Fernando. There’s an innate understanding, he said, of the kind of effort and sacrifice needed to reach a collective goal.
“I’ve learned that San Fernando is really a united community. They really support each other,” Gonzalez said. “It is filled with blue-collar, hard-working people. You compete for everything — rent, food, supplies. You mix that with a competitive sport…and everyone in our room is competitive.”
And should parents have any initial reservations about their daughters — and sons — battling on a wrestling mat, those feelings eventually dissipate.
“Today, it’s a lot more positive for women to do anything they want to do,” Gonzalez said. “This sport can prepare you for that competitiveness, for the drive you have to have, the ambition you have to have, to succeed in life. Be it a boy or girl, this sport challenges you to meet obstacles and rise to expectations.”
His wrestlers agree.
“Wrestling has taught me discipline,” Romo said. “It’s taught me of things that can be under my control. And it’s taught me how hard I have to work if I want to get where I want to be.”
There’s no telling when the Tigers historic run will finally ebb or at least slow, that some other girls’ program does finally rise up enough to knock them off the very top level, even if it’s only temporary.
But Gonzalez is prepared for that, too.
“Every team has its winning time. So enjoy it,” the coach said. “Because at some point you have to rebuild. And you don’t dwell on bad times because they, too, will pass.”