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Former Calaveras High School athlete and current Ukiah High School wrestling coach and teacher Thomas Fragoza has been named the California Coaches Association's 2024 Wrestling Coach of the Year. Photo courtesy of Huenink Photography

Thomas Fragoza has dedicated his life to wrestling. From his excellence on the mat before graduating from Calaveras High School in 2001, to wrestling in college and now his calling as a coach, Fragoza's life has always revolved around wrestling.

Since 2013, Fragoza has been the head wrestling coach at Ukiah High School, 200 miles northwest of Calaveras High School. During his time at Ukiah, Fragoza led the Wildcats to 11 North Bay championships and coached 18 CIF state qualifiers, as well as amassing a dual record of 126-26. On June 15, Fragoza was named the 2024 wrestling coach of the year by the California Coaches Association.

“It was definitely unexpected,” Fragoza said. “There are a lot of guys in the state that work hard, and I'm honored to be one of the others who won this award…I knew I coached at a high level because I've coached with and played against a lot of these guys. But yeah, I thought I was going to do this whether there was an award or not. It was a nice feeling to be recognized, but it's such a big team effort in Ukiah that I share it with everyone. It's really not about me, and that's the type of training we do in my program. I think that translates beautifully.”

Courtesy of Huenink Photography

Although Fragoza lives and works hours away from where he discovered his love for wrestling, he has not forgotten his roots and the people who helped him along the way. As Fragoza forges his own path as a successful coach, he thanks former legendary Calaveras wrestling coaches Vince Bicocca and Mark Bowe for encouraging his passion.

“As far as coaching goes, they gave me the playbook,” Fragoza said. “Obviously, I've made a ton of my own changes over the years. But down to the paperwork required to run a high-level athletic program, they gave me the right start, and a lot of it wasn't even on a computer. I can't stress enough that without them and their knowledge, I wouldn't be able to do what I do.”

During his time at Calaveras, Fragoza compiled an impressive resume, including two Mother Lode League individual titles, two state championship qualifiers and an overall record of 38-6 in his final season.

Courtesy of Huenink Photography

Bicocca recognized that even as a young wrestler, Fragoza not only had what it takes to be great on the mat, but also had the love for the sport to one day become an outstanding coach.

“Thomas has always studied the sport,” Bicocca said. “In high school, his work ethic and love for the sport told me he would be in wrestling for a long time. I'm not surprised that Thomas has had so much success so far in his short coaching career. He does everything you need to do to run a successful program, in addition to being a successful coach.”

After graduating from Calaveras in 2001, Fragoza wrestled at California State University, Fresno, and eventually got a chance to coach. Within a few years at Ukiah, where he is also a physical education teacher, his team won the North Coast Section championship, and the program's success continues to grow. But despite all that the Ukiah wrestling program has accomplished since 2013, Fragoza doesn't want the acclaim to be attributed to him alone.

“In Ukiah, it's a team effort,” Fragoza said. “The whole community is behind me. I love it there and I don't think my family and I will be moving anytime soon. They've really accepted me as one of their own and that's made what I do in this town, wrestling-wise, as easy as it can be. There's not a lot of resistance. As long as I just stayed the course and sat down with my coaching staff and said, 'Hey, here's the game plan and here's why we're doing what we're doing,' everyone in Ukiah was on board and quick to support me.”

Many of his wrestlers have never heard of Calaveras High School, but when asked about his former high school wrestling program, Fragoza has no problem bragging about the wrestlers who spent time at the Calaveras wrestling gym and the coaches who paved the way for them.“Everyone was tough,” Fragoza said. “Everyone I wrestled was tough, no matter how good they were. That's how Bowe and Bicocca trained us. Even if we didn't win the fight, we would still go out there and do our best. Nobody would give up. To this day, I envy the kids from Calaveras County for their ability to wrestle like that. I feel like we're getting better at it in Ukiah. I tell my boys stories about the toughness in Calaveras and of course the great coaching I received.”

Courtesy of Huenink Photography

Fragoza is on the list of former Calaveras wrestlers who have become head coaches, including current Red Hawk coach Andrew Garcia. Bicocca is in contact with many former Calaveras wrestlers and is happy to see Fragoza succeed as a head coach.

“It has been a joy to watch Thomas' success,” said Bicocca. “Seeing him share his love and knowledge of this great sport is a tremendous validation for me and Coach Bowe that our coaching has been valuable and important. We are so proud of Thomas and his many accomplishments and look forward to following his continued success.”

In addition to coaching at Ukiah High School, Fragoza founded the Ukiah Wrestling Club. Fragoza has enjoyed getting young athletes interested in wrestling at a young age, and he sees these young wrestlers making an impact on the high school mat.

“I started the Ukiah Wrestling Club about eight years ago and now we're starting to see some of these kids that started in our club when they were 5 and 6 years old,” Fragoza said. “Once those kids start coming on a regular basis, we should be able to move up a little bit. There's only one team in the NCS (North Coast Section) and that's De La Salle, a Division I team that I think is consistently better than us. I think we can catch up to them in the next two or three years if things continue to go the way they have been.”

While Fragoza is honored to be named the California Coaches Association's 2024 Wrestling Coach of the Year, his greatest accomplishment is his unwavering belief and he hopes he will continue to be a positive example for every wrestler that comes into his life.

“I do what I do for Christ and what Christ has done for my life,” Fragoza said. “I don't preach to the boys, but I show them what a Christian man can do. That means, even if they don't believe in God, they have good and moral character and solid people, and that's what I try to do.”

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