One night earlier this spring, Manhattan High wrestling coach Robert Gonzales and his family sat down for dinner in Topeka. Many topics were discussed, with a plenty of laughs throughout.
Somewhere in the middle of it all, Tyler Gonzales, Robert’s son, had something to say.
“He’s getting engaged!” Robert thought.
Even better — Tyler had accepted a teaching job at Junction City High.
“It’s a pretty good-sized hamburger,” Robert said, “and I about dropped the dang thing. I like to eat!”
The entire evening, Tyler waited for the perfect time to share the breaking news. He didn’t want it to be too close to when they sat down. He wanted others to say what they had to say.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” he said.
No one saw it coming. Earlier that day, Tyler texted Robert and asked for the passcode to enter the Gonzales residence. Robert replied and asked why Tyler was in Kansas and not Colorado.
Robert then figured Tyler was just there to see family members who were in town for the weekend from Dallas. But in a matter of hours, he dropped a bomb.
A day later, he interviewed for and accepted the Junction City’s head wrestling job.
Years from now, Robert and Tyler may look at that as the moment a rivalry was renewed.
MHS and Junction City are rivals. However, Robert’s wrestling program is a consistent powerhouse in Class 6A, and year-to-year, his Indians are more worried about traditional blue blood programs Derby, Washburn Rural and Garden City than Junction City.
But Tyler hopes to change that. Not long after accepting the job, he emailed his father.
“Hey, would you be interested in dualing us?” Tyler wrote. “I see you aren’t on the schedule.”
Robert tweaked his program’s schedule years ago. Instead of countless dual meets, the Indians spend their time traveling to the best tournaments around. They use those to prepare for state, which is the end goal each season.
When MHS goes to tournaments, coaches want the school back the next year because it strengthens their field. So Robert was flabbergasted when Tyler asked him to face off next season.
“I’m going to be careful how I say this, because I don’t want people to think I’m boasting or bragging, but you want to take on a 6A power,” Robert said. “You want to take on Manhattan High. And your team has been a little bit down the last four years, for whatever reason. And you’re a new and young coach.”
Tyler hasn’t thought much about what it’ll feel like competing against his father. Honestly, he said, he may have bitten off more than he could chew by scheduling MHS.
Then again, it embodies who he is. He learned to be that way from his time wrestling. Every coach he had instilled an attacking, never-back-down mindset.
There will be no running from competition, they told him. No taking the easy route. If you want to know where you stand, you go after the champ. Last season, the Indians were a few points shy of a state title.
“You learn a lot from your losses,” Tyler said. “You can learn from your wins moving forward, but you learn just as much if you can learn how to use those losses, let those motivate you, teach you what to get better at, and move forward with that same passion and desire to win.”
Tyler previously served as an assistant coach at Discovery Canyon Campus High School in Colorado Springs. He’s been an assistant at Colby Community College, as well as Shorter University in Georgia. He also worked in the USA Wrestling and the U.S. Olympic Committee offices.
During his days on the mat, he wrestled at Shawnee Heights, then in college at Fort Hays State.
Father and son have attended the NCAA Tournament together. They’ve talked about anything, collaborated on everything.
Now, they’ll get to battle.
“It really doesn’t matter when you wrestle Junction City,” Robert said, “because we could be 0-10 and they could be 10-0 and it’d be a dogfight.”
For now, Tyler is beginning to instill his culture.
He wants them to “light up the scoreboard.” Nobody, he said, goes to a wrestling match in hopes of seeing one point scored in six minutes. He wants his wrestlers to take risks and go after the opponent.
Most of all, however, he wants them to be grateful. If they have that perspective, he said he will be smiling as he watches.
“My kids are thankful for the opportunity to compete,” Tyler said. “I think that’s such a big thing that we don’t take anything for granted. You could’ve been born with some kind of disability or deformity that could’ve kept you out of wrestling. Accidents happen every day, so you could easily wake up the next day and not having this opportunity to compete.”
Tyler said he’s aware folks will try to compare his coaching career with his father’s success. They can, but he doesn’t care. He wants to be his own coach.
During the same weekend Tyler shared the news, his sisters approached their father. They, too, had something to tell him.
What they said almost made him faint for the second time in a matter of days.
“‘Dad, you’ve won your fair share of wrestling matches,’” he said they told him. “‘When you guys wrestle, we’re going to wear Junction City gear and cheer for Tyler.’”