Locking Up a Legacy: A News 11 Special Report
YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - While some say a picture can speak a thousand words, there are two pictures side by side within the walls of Yuma High School that stretches a legacy almost three decades.
Those pictures can be found down the hallway outside of the infamous Palace Gym where a small room sheds years of history and nostalgia - sharing the successes of the Yuma Criminals wrestling program's past. One full of tradition and pride.
In 2021, Jose Cazares Jr. was called upon to take over the program and pick up the pieces to a team looking to recuperate after losing both Jeff Welsing and Bo Seibel at the helm - one who shifted to football and another departing entirely.
And it was Welsing that left for Yuma Catholic - but not before winning two team state titles and leaving behind seven individual crowns for the decorated wall of champions.
Before even beginning his post as head coach, the pressure was already mounted on a silver platter to Cazares.
“Right away, people around the school, like co-workers, not even meaning to say it, would say 'oh wow you got big shoes to fill. Coach Welsing was a great guy. He won two state championships. How many are you going to win?’ Cazares said with a smile on his face. "I told them to give me some time and see how it goes."
Now a couple years removed, Cazares is working tirelessly to build the program back to what it once was and find a consistent path to state title glory - but he's not doing it alone.
Looking over his shoulder as a mentor is his own father, Jose Cazares Sr. - who's experience within the program after coaching state champions himself offers a helpful boost, while strengthening the father-son bond that began in the same exact room almost three decades ago.
"I was actually here when this room was built. I was a teacher here. It’s great to be back," said Jose Sr. "I felt like I never left and it’s good to be here. Once again, I feel, it’s home.”
Upon the hiring of Jose Jr., Criminals wrestling was no introduction to him. In fact, it's the room he grew up in.
“I was born into it, ya know. I had no choice. When I was born, my earliest memories were in the wrestling room," said Jose Jr. “He (Jose Sr.) would bring me to work. Little did I know, all these guys I would just see and they would say hi to me, would later become the people on the wall. I didn’t know that.”
That's where the two pictures find themselves. Within the enclosed walls of the historic wrestling room where Jose himself is just a small five-year-old boy sitting front and center of one 90's team - his father, standing at the top of the picture.
Look ahead to now, a picture from his first year as head coach. His father still standing right there beside him. A legacy hanging on decades later to salvage the traditions of Yuma wrestling.
The only thing missing is a state champion on the wall, where a space from the last champion in 2020 sits.
For the Cazares duo, it's all about breaking down the walls of the younger generation and opening them up to the old traditions that they are hanging onto today.
“What’s crazy about it is just seeing 20 years later, that generation gap. A lot of it is just translated back to what it was 20 years ago," added Jose Jr. "We’re still doing the same types of workouts, same types of moves and we’re still seeing success in it.”
A father and son, holding true to tradition over two decades later - locking up a legacy through family on the mat.
“It would mean a lot to get a state champion also for himself," said Jose Sr. "To come back, it’s like I tell him, sometimes I stand at that doorway and it’s like I never left. I feel like I’m at home.”