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Wednesday, April 13, 2005 | Poway High wrestling coach Wayne Branstetter is sitting in the middle of the school’s Dr. Perry L. Munday Wrestling Center, craning his neck from side to side to take in the expanse of a facility college coaches would envy. The place is the size of a high school gym.

“Every time I walk in here, I pinch myself,” Branstetter said. “I think, ‘Are you kidding me.’”

Branstetter, who has coached 27 years at Poway, pauses. He turns emotional for a moment, bowing his head to collect his thoughts, as he considers the magnitude of the $1 million donation from Dr. Perry L. Munday. The good doctor, who died last year at the age of 96, was a wrestler in the 1920s for the New York Athletic Club and a long-time fan of Branstetter’s nationally recognized program.

“I was going to retire; I was going to go out in 2000,” Branstetter said. “But then one day Doc Munday said he wanted to do something for wrestling. This facility gave me a shot in the arm.”

Three state championship banners now hang from the ceiling after Poway returned from the CIF State meet on March 4-5 in Bakersfield with the team title. The Titans won with a state-record total of 167 points.

But Doc Munday’s million-dollar baby is paying dividends in forms other than state championship banners or the 24 straight CIF San Diego Sections titles that are listed on the walls. The Wrestling Center, which is also available to Poway’s physical education classes, paid its first dividend in a million-dollar coach – despite the pennies-to-the-hour stipend coaches receive – still influencing lives.

“You’re trying to take a 14-year-old kid, who doesn’t really know who he is yet, and use the sport of wrestling to make him a better man,” he said. “The ultimate goal is when a kid graduates from high school, regardless of if he won a state title, a CIF title or he was just a member of the team, when he leaves here I want the sport of wrestling to have such an impression on him he can carry those values the rest of his life.”

One senior who is leaving Poway with a state title is Colton Nichols. He’s a talented athlete, but he says he owes his college future to Branstetter.

Nichols won the state title at 215 pounds with a record of 44-1, including 34 pins. The past few weekends he’s been enjoying recruiting trips, although he says he had no plans to attend college.

“He encouraged me to go to college, and I’m going because of him,” Nichols said. “Being part of the Poway wrestling program is the greatest honor of my life so far.”

Nichols’ name is among the dozens of Poway wrestlers who have won medals or titles at the state meet and have their names enshrined on the walls.

But another total worth tabulating is the student-athletes that will continue to benefit from Branstetter’s presence. Now, he says he feels more like the 22-year-old coach he was in 1973 with his first job at Channel Islands than the tired coach he had become while entering his 50s in 2000.

“As the years have gone by, I’ve learned to respect the sport of wrestling even more,” Branstetter said. “There is great sacrifice here, but if it was easy everyone could do it. We try to make our kids feel special. We want to show them if they go through this and come out the other end, they’ll go through life a tough-minded individual.”

Tom Shanahan has been writing about San Diego athletes at the professional, collegiate and high school levels for 27 years. He is the Media Coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions (www.sdhoc.com). His features on high school athletes and coaches can be seen on the cable television show “School and Sports Stars” on the San Diego County Office of Education’s ITV Channel.

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