Gunn wrestling coach Horpel says it's time to do something else


The drive to Bakersfield will be the same and Rabobank Arena will be familiar as ever. But, the 2015 CIF State Wrestling Championships this weekend will be different for Chris Horpel.

This will be his last one as Gunn's head coach.

"I think it's time for somebody else to be the head guy," said Horpel, 63. "I've had a good run and it has been a blast. I love the kids I work with, all 40 years worth."

Time has taken its toll on Horpel, a former All-American wrestler at Stanford, and his body is telling him to step away.

"I keep adding to my injury list," said Horpel, who has taken an active coaching role during his career. His instruction often is on the mat.

He has a ruptured disc in his lower back and neck. He needs double knee replacements, despite having three surgeries on his knees. He has undergone hip surgery and even tore an ACL following one knee surgery.

"I can still roll around with these guys, but something always gets tweaked," he said. "I like sports that throw you around and slap you in the face. (But) The older you get, the more brittle you get."

Once he made his decision to step aside, Horpel set out to make this final season as enjoyable as possible.

"I've been trying to appreciate everything," he said, whether it was a dual match, a tournament or the league finals.

While he hopes to stick around and help out the program since Gunn will be hosting the SCVAL Championships next season, it won't be as the head coach. It's time, he says, to start enjoying the things that he missed.

Horpel grew up in Newport Beach and learned to surf. He now enjoys windsurfing and traveling with his wife, Sandi. The long wrestling season, however, often interferes with the couple's vacation schedules.

"I planned my departure from Stanford," he said. "People didn't think I could do it, but it did. I think I can switch gears and be the photographer/surfer dude. My Newport Beach upbringing is too much a part of me."

Horpel recorded an undefeated season in 1970 at Newport High and set the national high school pin record by pinning 34 of 36 opponents. At Stanford, he set the school career record (56) and season (18) pin records.

Horpel began his coaching career as the assistant coach at Stanford (1975-76) while training for the '76 Olympics. After the Montreal Olympiad, he was assistant coach at Palo Alto High (1976-77), head coach at Gunn (1977-78), and assistant coach at UCLA (1978-79). In 1979-80 Horpel was named the head coach at Stanford and remained in that position for 22 years before taking over as the Director of Wrestling.

In his 24 years on the Farm, coach Horpel achieved three impressive goals: made Stanford wrestling competitive nationally, enabled Stanford's wrestling program to be financially self-sufficient, and made Stanford one of the top two academic wrestling teams in the U.S. (Stanford's team GPA has averaged between a 3.2 and 3.4 every year).

Horpel has been at Gunn for 12 years, guiding the Titans to five league titles and three undefeated seasons. He also produced one to six state meet qualifiers each year for 11 straight years.

When he started at Gunn, he had 12 wrestlers for 14 weights. He built that up to 35 wrestlers at one point and doesn't want to see the program return to its early beginnings.

Horpel plans on coaching the Terman Middle School team this spring, where he will continue to impart his three rules: have fun, get in shape and learn something new.

It has been a successful formula for the past 40 years.

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22 people like this
Posted by Nick D.
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 6, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Great coach, mentor, and storyteller. I was a lousy wrestler at Gunn, but Horpel taught me as best as he could. He always had great advice, on and off the mat.
I'll remember him as one of those legendary characters you meet maybe once or twice in your lifetime.
Thank you Mr. Horpel!

12 people like this
Posted by Knewman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 7, 2015 at 7:19 am

Horp is the best. While I thought he was teaching me to improve my competitiveness on the mat, what he was really doing was teaching a framework for managing life. For a 16 year old in 1976 that was the essential ingredient. To imagine the generations of boys and girls that came after those first years of his coaching and what they learned about being generous, kind, tough, smart and persistent, and how they've passed those lessons and examples through to their children, families and communities is breathtaking.

Horp didn't make my life better, he formed it in fundamentally positive ways. One time while eating after a difficult weight-cut I asked Horp why the food tasted so good. He said, "deprivation makes for appreciation." Perhaps while we reflect on a world without Horp's coaching, we can appreciate the great teachers we've had, the lessons we learned from them, and give a little bit of their greatness back to our community in deep appreciation for what they taught us.

Thanks Horp! You are the best! JK

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