By Janet Goreham
Failure threatened to expose Coach Scott Glabb. He slumped against the door frame of the Santa Ana High School wrestling room and watched the last of his wrestlers exit the school after practice. But could he even call it a practice? He’d wasted the first 15 minutes searching for the keys to his office after his athletes had locked him out … again. And when he’d finally gotten to the wrestling room, he’d found that half of his team was missing. Of the few who had shown up, two were set to exchange blows over allegedly stolen wrestling shoes, and one appeared to be intoxicated.
"The challenge wasn't trying to get them to win, but trying to get them to break their cycles of dysfunction, solve their daily problems and convince them to turn their lives around for the better."
He now understood why no other coach had interviewed for the position at Santa Ana. Maybe it was because, at the time, Santa Ana ranked third in the nation in the urban hardship* category. Or maybe it was because other wrestling coaches knew the reputation of the high school’s program and decided they actually wanted to win during their coaching careers. Whatever the reason, the young Coach Glabb had been named the new head wrestling coach after simply showing up for the interview.
Frustration overwhelmed him. Discipline problems, disrespect and loss certainly weren’t what he had signed up for. But as he watched his boys walk away he heard something he says he’ll never forget.
“Quit trying to win and start investing more time in these kids.” The unmistakable voice of God filled Coach Glabb’s mind. His task: share more of who he was as a man of God. Take the boys to church and let them discover what he found when he was their age.
“At that point I decided that whatever it was that these boys were doing, it wasn’t working for them,” says Coach Glabb. “So, I thought I’d just become a mediocre coach with a mediocre wrestling team and would focus on trying to get these kids right with the Lord. Because that had worked for me.”
Glabb soon put his calling into action. He started an FCA Bible study and invited the boys to attend church with him. He spent more time with them outside of school and wrestling practice. He was open about his faith in Christ and answered questions they had about Christianity.
“I invested time learning the lifestyles of the students,” says Glabb. “I found that many of them had to work to support large families. Some could not walk home from school after-hours out of fear. Some babysat siblings, and some preferred to hang out with peers rather than train. I invited the wrestlers to bring their problems and concerns to me without worrying about being ignored or judged.”
As a result of his wide-open-door policy, Glabb began to understand the real battles the boys fought when they left the wrestling room. “The challenge wasn’t trying to get them to win, but trying to get them to break their cycles of dysfunction, solve their daily problems and convince them to turn their lives around for the better. I began not really coaching the sport as much as trying to counsel, direct and guide the kids.”
Growing up in Santa Ana’s gang-infested neighborhoods, most kids face little more than entrapment – an open invitation to step into the quicksand that inevitably sucks them under the surface of principled society. Julio Torres, now a senior wrestler at Santa Ana High, was once no exception.
For Julio, whose father was imprisoned for murder when he was young, succumbing to gang life or juvenile hall looked like a welcome detour from the road kids like him usually take – a road paved with the stones of supporting illegitimate children and working minimum wage jobs. But that was before he met Jesus Christ.
According to Julio, it was through his wrestling coaches (Glabb and his assistant coach, FCA area representative Tony Gomez) that he was introduced to his Savior. “I never knew about religion until my freshman year in high school. Tony started taking me to church and FCA, and little by little I started understanding Christianity,” he says. “I had bad influences and habits, but they have changed. Now I know the truth.”
Seeing his situation, Tony Gomez sought custody of Torres after he was placed in foster care. He received legal guardianship last year.
Because of Gomez, who also acts as the wrestling team’s spiritual coach, and because of Coach Glabb and his mission to change the lives of his wrestlers, Julio Torres says he now has positive role models who encourage him in his relationship with God and in his success as a student and wrestler. “Before I was only looking up to people who were bad influences,” says Torres. “They didn’t have the desire to go to college or have a good job, and I didn’t care about college. I thought I might drop out of school and work at McDonald’s. But now I have the dream of going to college. I’m so thankful that I’ve met people like them.”
In the years he’s coached at Santa Ana, Coach Glabb has acted as more than a coach to many of his boys. He’s worn different hats according to the needs of his athletes – hats of counselor, parent, brother and even doctor. Not only does he try his best to address their mental and spiritual needs, but also to meet their physical needs. It’s not unusual to see him handing out a few dollars to his players for food after practice or taking them shopping for clothes. Much of his summer is spent with the kids, taking them to movies and theme parks, having them over for dinner and just hanging out. “Many of them don’t have role models or parents to teach them and guide them,” says Glabb. “I take on that role.”
For the man who never envisioned himself coaching in California, let alone at Santa Ana High School, Coach Scott Glabb inadvertently found his coaching promised land. “I wouldn’t want to work with any other kids,” he says. “They’re appreciative because they don’t have much. I’ve taught for both the upper class and the lower class, and I’ve gotten more satisfaction from coaching those who were less fortunate, less talented and less educated than I did from working with those who ‘had it all.’
“To see the miraculous transformation of individuals from the time they enter ninth grade to the day they graduate, and to know I was a part of that change, is the most gratifying and remarkable feeling.”
Glabb knows that coaching is his ministry and that Santa Ana wrestling is his mission field. “I went into coaching and teaching to make a difference and to change lives. It’s just as important to teach them to live life well and be able to find the Lord as it is to teach mathematics and English. If people really go into teaching to change lives, they need to go to a place where there are kids that are hurting and kids that are in pain. My hope as a coach and educator is to see more people drawn to work in inner–city, urban schools.”
When Coach Glabb heard and obeyed the Lord’s calling 16 years ago, his life and the lives of his athletes changed. The wrestlers on drugs, the criminals, those who lacked talent and those without family support all began to improve. The circumstances in their lives didn’t change, but their attitudes and their hope for the future did. And they began to win.
Now, 17 years, nine California Interscholastic Federation titles and 14 straight league championships later, Coach Glabb stands in the wrestling room doorway of one of the most celebrated teams in California. He leans on the same metal door frame where he once heard God’s voice and looks across the mats that have been home to the success of his young athletes. “How did I ever manage to build this program into a winner, and the team into a source of salvation for the wrestlers?” he wonders. While he may not hear an audible voice from heaven at that moment, he knows his answer.
Special Q & A With FCA's Tony Gomez.
*Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute. Ranking urban hardships is based on income, education and housing conditions.
Photos courtesy of Scott Glabb