Arizona is home for Anthony Robles, who turns 25 on Saturday. He was born there – without a right leg – in Mesa. He won an NCAA Division I wrestling title at the hometown university – Arizona State. And he recently bought his own house there.
And he’s now become one of the colorful and eloquent personalities of the sport. After releasing his biography “Unstoppable” last September, he has made more than 70 speaking engagements and book-tour trips all over the country, and into Canada and Mexico. He also serves as a wrestling commentator for ESPN.
But something about Orting sticks with him. He’s been a keynote performer at the annual South Sound Wrestling Camp since 2009 – long before any fame hit.
“There is definitely a connection. It is not just a business transaction where I come in and get a check – these guys are my friends and family,” Robles said. “I have seen a lot of these kids for four years now. A lot of kids keep returning. It is something real special with the wrestling community, and more specifically with this group that draws me back. I want to come back because I am happy to see these kids. You don’t get that a lot.”
Jody Coleman, now the Orting High coach, founded the South Sound camp. Back in 2009, Scott Christian, a Bethel High alum who was a wrestling official in Arizona, recommended that Coleman invite a pair of ASU wrestlers to coach the camp.
One was Chris Drouin, a returning All-American for the Sun Devils – and a real headliner name. Robles, then an ASU walk-on, was the second one.
Coleman mailed two plane tickets to the college teammates. Only Robles showed up.
“I didn’t know anything about (Robles),” Coleman said. “What Scott told me was that he was a really neat person, a good worker and that he was really good with kids.”
Robles was all of that, and more – so much Coleman kept inviting him back, and the Pacific-12 Conference wrestler kept accepting.
In 2011, Robles’ life changed for good. He defeated Iowa’s Matt McDonough, 7-1, to win the NCAA Division I title at 125 pounds, capping an undefeated season.
Suddenly he was a household name with wrestling families. Appearance requests skyrocketed. Robles always made it a priority to return to Coleman’s camp.
That summer after Robles’ captured the NCAA title, wrestlers from Oregon, Idaho and California asked to attend the camp. Months out, Coleman had to stop taking requests, capping the number at 200 participants. He said 350 would have showed up.
This summer, Coleman wanted to cater just as much to the growing popularity of girls’ wrestling. With Robles’ help, the camp is hosting 2012 U.S. Olympic team member Kelsey Campbell, who grew up in Milwaukee, Ore. and wrestled at ASU.
Also helping out this week are a number of former Washington high school state champions who now wrestle in college. One of them is former Orting standout Taylor Meeks, who earned All-American honors for Oregon State last spring as a sophomore.
Kirk White, the former Curtis High wrestler who won an NCAA Division I title at Boise State in 1999, has been a stalwart at the camp. He remains on the Boise State wrestling staff.
The camp’s primary aim is to raise $5,000 this week to help restore four-year college wrestling in Washington.