by John Stapleton, Contributing Editor
The day starts with black coffee. It also usually starts before anyone else is awake but Maricopa High School Wrestling Coach Erick Fierro leaves for the day with a parting kiss to his wife, Veronica, as she begins her day.
He is typically in the weight room well before 6 a.m., waiting for the student-athletes to arrive and begin their workouts. Officially the start time is 6 but Fierro says, “If you are just on time, you are already late.”
Every day during the school year is a disciplined routine. After the morning training session, Fierro teaches automotive shop class from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., followed by meetings and tutoring sessions, then practice. He is a coach for both football and wrestling so for days with games or wrestling matches, the days are even longer. By the time Fierro arrives back home, his family is waiting for him and the sun is long gone.
“I am very busy,” says Fierro, “but because I have such a supportive wife, it works. She is very supportive of all I do. I wouldn’t have the successes I have had without her.”
Fierro has lived in the Maricopa area since he was a kid, remembering it as dirt roads and farmland. He says his family knew nothing about wrestling but was introduced to it by his seventh-grade friend, Cory Adams.
“I had no clue what I was getting into,” says Fierro. “I heard Coach (first name?) Nelson’s speech about how wrestling would push you to your limits physically and mentally and that most would quit in the first week, and I was all in.”
Fierro says his parents were supportive and would attend all his matches. In 2002, he graduated from Maricopa High School. There were only 80 other graduates at the time and it was considered a big class. Fierro tried different colleges and programs but found his fit with the automotive program at Gateway Community College. A little over a decade later, he would bring his automotive industry experience and education back to Maricopa High School.
“We have what I believe to be an amazing facility,” says Fierro. “If we were running a business, we would have everything we need to be considered full-service. From general maintenance, tires, alignment, and brake services we have the equipment to get the job done. Students are learning general maintenance and safety to repair and rebuilding of major components.
“The more motivated a student is, the more he or she can get out of the course. Whether the student wants to pursue automotive as a career path or it’s more of a fun hobby for them, they will get great information. But most of all, I try to push employability skills.”
The same year he returned to teach the automotive classes Fierro filled out the paperwork to become a volunteer coach for the wrestling program.
“I just wanted to be an extra body that the kids can beat up a bit,” says Fierro. “I did not know that the team was in need of a coach. I was just in the right place at the right time.”
To revamp the program, Fierro knew it would take discipline and a long-term commitment.
“Maricopa does have a long history of wonderful coaches before me, but there was some work to do when I got here,” Fierro says. “My main goal was to grow the popularity of the sport. My first year coaching, it was difficult to fill every weight class.
“Now we fill every weight class on varsity and have large numbers on our JV team. We also have sent on average eight wrestlers to State in the last three years.”
Fierro also had to start a booster club, Iron Squad, to assist the students with the costs of participating. The club helps pay the expenses of traveling, wrestling camps, the purchase of equipment like warm-ups and headgear and hotel stays for overnight tournaments.
The booster club must compete as well — for donations. It goes up against more popular sports but Fierro believes the wrestling program’s on-the-mat success will continue and the results will speak for themselves. Most importantly, he believes the true success will be determined by the character growth reflected in the student-athletes.
“I personally do not emphasize any key points or themes, the sport does it for me,” says Fierro. “Wrestling emphasizes discipline, physical and mental toughness through adversity. It develops competitiveness. It emphasizes team mindset in an individual sport. It gives you skills to conquer life and that’s why I love the sport.”