Support local news in Alameda. Give Now!

Alameda High School Brings Wrestling Back After 40 Years

The 2022-2023 school year marked the first time in 40 years that Alameda High School (AHS) had a wrestling team. At the end of the year, that wrestling team totaled nine players—and 0 team wins. This year, the AHS wrestling program, led by head coach Dennis Spencer, hosts 42 passionate wrestlers. And, their current overall team score is five wins and just one loss.

Alameda Post - an AHS student on the floor during a wrestling match
Alameda High School wrestler Kurtis Wong and his opponent. Photo Kelsey Goeres.

Aidan Sloan is a sophomore this year and second-year wrestler. His father and uncle also wrestled in high school. So when Aidan got to AHS, he was disappointed to find that the school didn’t have a wrestling program. He emailed the principal and the athletic director to inquire about the possibility.

Meanwhile, Spencer’s daughter Viola, who was a junior at AHS at the time, was working on her dad to coach at her school. He’d been coaching at Skyline High School in Oakland, where he still teaches. Ultimately, she was able to convince him.



“My daughter Viola was really the inspiration to try and start the team [at AHS],” Coach Spencer told the Alameda Post. “She’s a senior this year and she’s the one who asked me to coach. So I left Skyline and installed a couple of my alumni to coach there.”

The coach began his wrestling career when he was in seventh grade. During his first two years wrestling in high school he experienced “middling success.” But in his final two years he had a record of 80 wins and 6 losses.

Alameda Post - the AHS gym during a wrestling match
Fans gathered at the gym for Alameda High School wrestling. Photo Kelsey Goeres.

“My Junior year propelled me to be on the U.S. National Junior team to compete in the Soviet Union. So I went to the Soviet Union in 1987 on the Junior World’s Team,” he said. He went on to wrestle for a year in community college but took a break after getting injured. He got back to it when he attended Wesleyan University to pursue his bachelor’s degree, but stopped after another injury. “I hung up my shoes for a while,” he said. “I didn’t have anything to do with wrestling for about 17 years at that point. I didn’t come back to wrestling until 2009 when I started coaching in Oakland, where I was teaching.”

This school year, Spencer is joined by assistant coaches Eric Bustos and Aaron Robles. Sloan describes their coaching style as “a good mixture of strict and nice.” “The coaches make it such a good experience and positive environment,” he said.

Last year, the nine wrestlers and Spencer hopped from room to room to practice and had to use jiu-jitsu mats until they pulled together enough funds to purchase an actual wrestling mat. This year, practices look a lot different with 42 participants and three coaches. Practices typically involve “a lot of push-ups and a lot of resistance training,” said the head coach. There’s also a lot of conditioning, he added.

“We stress that they need to be in practice every single day,” said Spencer. “It’s a very intense combat sport, so in order to avoid injury you have to be well-conditioned.”

AHS students cheer for senior wrestlers Roger Wyborny, Jake Guthermore, and Viola Spencer. Photo Kelsey Goeres.

The student wrestlers put all their hard work to the test during matches. “When I’m in a match, not much goes through my head except for beating my opponent,” said Sloan. Spencer echoed the importance of the wrestlers’ “mental game.” He said it’s not uncommon for young wrestlers to get in their heads about losing. “If you do not believe that you will win, you won’t,” said the coach.

The team’s most recent match took place on January 24, when they lost to Castro Valley High School 30-53 and beat San Leandro High School 54-30. Their last meet of the year, to be held today, January 30, will match the wrestlers against Tennyson and Arroyo high schools. Spencer said he’s hoping for a win at the final match but, overall, his coaching philosophy involves not caring about losses “at all.”

“I’ve told the kids many times, it’s all about learning to get better,” he said.

More importantly, the coach hopes his wrestlers take away the life lessons he believes the sport has to offer. “Commitment—it takes a lot of commitment to be able to see a goal through—and self-reliance. One of the great things that we love about the sport is that it’s very individualized. When you go onto the mat, it’s only you out there. So if you’re victorious, you take all the glory for yourself and if you have a setback, or a learning experience as I like to call it, then you have to overcome that and own the loss. And then you have to look to see where you can get better.”

Editor’s note, Wed. Jan. 31 10:25 a.m.: The Alameda Post received an update from Coach Spencer after the match. “We had another close match tonight with Tennyson- it ended in a tie 39-39 and we lost on the 5th criteria. Arroyo was crazy tough and we lost to them 9-54. Overall we ended the season with a winning record of 5-3—well beyond any of my wildest expectations! I’m so proud of these young wrestlers! Our future is bright as we look forward to the conference meet next weekend and qualifying wrestlers for the North Coast Section Tournament.”

Kelsey Goeres is a contributing writer for the Alameda Post. Contact her via [email protected]. Her writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Kelsey-Goeres.

KQED Curated Content

Support our mission to provide trustworthy news and information for Alameda every day.

Thanks for reading the

Nonprofit news isn’t free.

Will you take a moment to support Alameda’s only local news source?