by Cerwin D Haynes
(thumbnail/stock photos and video by Cerwin D Haynes, DeeDee Jackson & Tadzio Garcia, courtesy of ELAC Athletics)
After 26 years at the helm of the East Los Angeles College wrestling program, head coach Ralph Valle has officially retired.
Only the second ever head coach of the program, Coach Valle took over from Benny Bohlander in 1995. Valle would go on lead his team to four top-10 finishes in the state during his tenure. He's also placed four conference runner-up finishes, and a third-place finish in the Southern California Regional Tournament. Valle has also coached 43 individual State place winners, including two State Champions, six state runner-ups, 22 All-Americans and six Academic All-Americans. He was named Southern California Coach of the Year in 2007.
The fourth of East's top-10 finishes came in the last year of competition before COVID-19 shut down fall sports (2019-2020). This included top-eight finishes in several weight categories.
In his official notice of retirement, Coach Valle writes:
"To say that it has been both an honor and a privilege to serve our local student athletes in this capacity would be an understatement. I leave with cherished memories in working with the young men and women who have chosen to attend East Los Angeles College and wrestle for the Huskies, of which I am a proud alum ('76)."
Coach Valle began his career as an ELAC two-sport student-athlete: he was wrestling team captain who qualified for the state championship (coached by Bohander), and was a member of the 1974 undefeated State Championship football team. He would initially transfer onto California State University Fullerton, and after that spent his senior year wrestling for California University Los Angeles where he earned MVP Honors and was Team Captain with a NCAA Qualifier. In addition to his collegiate accolades, Valle also was also a USWF State Champion, an AAU/Southern Pacific Association Grand Champion, and a third-place finisher at the USA California State Open.
Before reconnecting at ELAC professionally, Valle was a high school head coach for 15 years. His record includes 221 dual-meet victories, 10 League Championships, four CIF Dual Team Titles, three CIF Tournament Titles, three CIF runner-up finishes, and two top-20 State Finals' finishes.
In speaking with Coach Valle after his retirement announcement, he believes it's a "plus" that he was able to build upon the trend of stability established by his former coach and mentor Bohlander, who began his tenure when the wrestling program began in 1968. "It's good for ELAC Athletics and the sport itself," says Valle.
Ralph Valle's lifetime commitment to wrestling earned him the highest honor in the sport when, in 2014, he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for Lifetime Service to Wrestling. Valle cites his daily approach as the hallmark of his coaching technique. "A good wrestling coach gets on the mat and does stuff," says Valle. "I train, run [and] lift with the team – hands on every day. Not just the physicality of the sport – but that's my approach. That's been my philosophy for all my career"
(Coach Valle instructing during an August 2019 practice)
Valle hopes that the next coach is able to continue the stability that he's helped establish, though it'd be an understatement to say that he'll be a tough act to follow. "There's no replacing someone like Ralph Valle," says ELAC Athletic Director Bobby Godinez. "He's given so much to this campus, program, and community. We wish him well in retirement, and will do our best to live up to the standard he has set."
Valle is also a tenured academic counselor. He will retire from this position in June.