One could argue that in the Central Section, wrestling is the top sport in area high schools.

With the Clovis schools dominating the valley and state for the last 20-plus years, other wrestling coaches throughout the section have been working hard to keep up with the Clovis programs.

One coach who has wholeheartedly accepted the challenge over the years ha been entrenched in small schools on the Westside for almost 40 years.

Bill Magnusson of Firebaugh, along with Frank Lemos of nearby Dos Palos, are a pair of highly successful wrestling coaches, and they were recently enshrined in the California Wrestling Hall of Fame.

The enshrinement took place on June 1st at a gala dinner in Fresno with about 450 people in attendance. A total of 18 individuals were picked with “Lifetime Service” awards.  Other inductees included former Central Valley star athlete Lorenzo Neal, who wrestled and played football at Lemoore High and Fresno State before embarking on a long and successful career as a running back in the NFL.

Magnusson has been head coach of the Firebaugh Eagle program since 1991.  His teams have amassed an impressive 29 league championships with 27 undefeated seasons. Probably his most successful season was in 1994, when the small school finished in third place at the Central Section Masters.

Over the years, Firebaugh has amassed 22 individual Valley champions and five Masters champions, and in 1997, Cleo Johnson became the first Eagle to win a State title.

Johnson, now 45 years old, has stayed heavily involved in central valley wrestling, hoping to emulate his former coach.

“Coach Magnusson was a mentor, a father figure, and a spiritual leader,” said Johnson, who is the director of the Central Valley Youth Wrestling organization. “He has guided my life. I hope I can be just half the man he is. He has helped tens of hundreds of kids over the years. His induction in the Hall of Fame is long overdue.”

Magnusson said that his selection to the HOF was very humbling.

“It is without a doubt, the most humbling experience I have ever had,” Magnusson told The Express. “This is one of the greatest acknowledgments that I have been blessed to have for my body of work.”

Magnusson still subscribes to his well-known mantra of the “3-C’s”, Character, Commitment and Communication.

“The greatest ability of a coach, I feel, is availability, and I have always been available to my athletes,” he said.

He added that continuing to coach and teach at Firebaugh High “is in God’s hands.”

“I am still striving to be a great coach,” he said. “My life is in His hands so I will do what He wants.”

David Borboa