By Randi Somers
Steve Wolfe, wrestling coach and teacher at Homer High School for 30 years, has written his third book about the sport that he says is mainly a tribute to his outstanding athletes, most notably in this book, Tela O’Donnell who represented the United States in the 2004 Olympics.
He first coached O’Donnell when she was in the eighth grade. “A beautiful, petite farm girl raised by a single parent, her mother Claire,” he writes. The young athlete grew up “wrestling sheep, fixing fences, building barns and riding horses.”
He notes that she was tough, and he saw early on that she had talent for wrestling – but the junior high boys were afraid to touch her. He made her his demonstration partner and the boys got over their fear of “girl germs.”
Wolfe found her to be “a wonderful coachable personality.” Soon he found himself coaching Tela with Siri Neal as her opponent for national competitions where she won the championship while still a sophomore in high school. Then, it was on to university on a wrestling scholarship where she won the women’s College National Championship as a freshman. From there, she and three other girls on her college team were offered positions as wrestlers at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. where they were groomed 24 hours a day. They put their education on hold to prepare for the 2004 Olympics which was the first year women were allowed wrestle.
She was one of four Alaskans, two of whom were Homer athletes (rower Stacey Borgman was the other) who traveled to Greece to compete in the 2004 Olympics.
Wolfe treasured his opportunity to travel with O’Donnell to Athens to coach her at this event in her life.
Like his previous works, “Call Me Coach” and “Call Us Champions,” “Call Us Olympians” is about more than the sport. It also contains entertaining and insightful tales of school politics and life in Homer and his family life. His digression into the important features of Homer includes a chapter about Brother Asaiah Bates and his influence. He writes that some people called him a “kook.” Adding that, “It was impossible not to like him. He was the sweetest gentlest, nicest ‘kook’ you could ever hope to meet.”
A graduate of Brigham Young University, Wolfe earned his master’s degree at Alaska Pacific University. Not only does he coach, at the age of 56, he also still wrestles competitively. In 1991 he won his ninth consecutive state championship in the open division and won the national championship in Las Vegas for his age and weight. Although he has retired from teaching and coaching at Homer High, he continues to coach students at the Russian village of Voznesenka and at Anchor Point Junior High, and is president and coach of the Popeye Wrestling Club.
In his book’s conclusion, he writes, “Whether you are a Tela O’Donnell who wrestles in the Olympics or if you just learn that you can be a better or more successful person (wrestling with daily challenges), wrestling makes us all Olympians.”
He will be autographing his latest book at The Homer Bookstore from 3-6 p.m. July 29, and at Safeway from 1-6 p.m. July 30.
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