MEEKER I People are brought into our lives all the time and it seems that after they die is when you find the true meaning of why.
On Sunday, Feb. 22 I was on my way downtown when I received word that my wrestling Coach Bill Turner had passed away.
I pulled over and cried uncontrollably as my whole world came crashing down, and I had nowhere to run. For those who didn’t know him, he was just another man, but for those whose lives he touched he was truly a gift from God. As a teacher and a coach he helped create a path for so many of us to follow.
For me, I believe the first time Coach Turner entered my life was in the early ‘70s between my oldest brother Roman’s freshman and sophomore year. He had convinced Roman that he was wasting his time trying to play basketball and that the wrestling room was where he belonged.
His ways of convincing young men to enter the world of wrestling and helping them achieve their goals is what helped put him in the books as one of wrestling’s all-time greatest coaches. His influence on Roman was incredible. He coached Roman to become a two-time state qualifier, then helped Roman make his next step in the college ranks and become a two-time RMAC champion and an All-American. Roman then moved 50 miles from Meeker and with the help and guidance of Coach Turner became one of Colorado’s elite high school coaches.
His influence continued with my brother Bobby Gutierrez as he became a two time state champion, outstanding 2A wrestler and member of Meeker’s first state championship team.
The last Gutierrez who Coach Turner had to mold was me, or as I once overheard him tell Pat Sullivan, “the scrawny kid that loved the woods.”
When I was in high school the lowest weight was 98 pounds. It wasn’t until my junior year that I finally tipped the scales at 98 pounds. From junior high through my first couple years of high school I took a lot of whippings on the mat, and Coach kept telling me that good things would happen if I just stuck with it. He molded that scrawny kid into Meeker’s only 98-pound state champion.
Once I was graduated he would encourage me to go in and help with the junior high and high school program where I was able to give back to not only the sport but to the man that I owed so much to.
In 1985 I decided to be all that I could be and become an Army infantryman. It was Coach Turner who I once again turned to for advice, knowing that he was a proud Army veteran. He told me that basic training was a way to weed out the weak and wimpish, and if I could make it through his wrestling practices, I could make it through basic. In his words, “Don’t let them get to you!”
I remember after a 12-mile speed march with full rucks and weapons in the hot Fort Benning, Ga., sun we were standing in formation with rucks still on our backs. I was in the front rank, sweat was pouring off all of us and the drill sergeant waiting for more of us to drop from exhaustion. In his loud voice he asked if any of us were missing anything, I raised my hand. In no time that round brown hat brim was in my face asking, “What the f%ck are you missing private Gutierrez?” I said in my loud voice, “My wife, drill sergeant!” The next thing I heard was, “Get the f%ck down!” With a full ruck on my back and a M-16 across my hands I counted out 25 push-ups. Later some of my buddies asked why I said that. My response was, “Just to let them know they aren’t getting to me.”
After three years in the Army I made my way back home, and in 1990 I started as a custodian at Meeker High School. I would try and make my rounds of emptying trash cans during Coach Turner’s planning period. He always had words of wisdom, and I always had a joke or hunting story for him. He would grab his coffee cup and say, “Follow me to the lounge so I can get a refill.”
In the fall of 1993 I lost my Dad and it was Coach Turner to whom I turned for guidance during what seemed at the time like the worst thing that could have happened to me. I had always thought of Coach Turner as a father figure, and I found myself turning to him more and more all the time.
On Oct. 8, 2005, I found myself in the same shoes as Coach Turner. Just like him, I was given a parent’s worst nightmare of having to bury a child. Until that day, that was one thing he never shared his thoughts on nor did I ever ask. He came to me that day and held me as though he was transferring his strength to help hold my weakened body from shattering into pieces.
He spoke of the loss of his son Casey, and how he not only put himself through hell but members of his family and friends as well. He said, “Don’t let this take over your life. You still have a family to take care of as well as yourself.”
I thank God each and every day that I had him as well as all the others that have and still help guide me down my path of life.
I always look for signs and meanings to help me try and make sense of things. The man that I knew as Coach Turner (never to his face can I recall calling him Bill) was now gone. And that is it—he is gone. The man who left me and all who knew him is a legend, and as long as there are those of us who speak of him he will always be here—legends never die.
How fitting was it that in the days prior to his passing that he was in Denver watching two of his grandsons compete in the state high school wrestling tournament? One who bears the name of his son who passed before him, and one who bears the maiden name of the lovely lady who stood by his side for so many years.
Two signs I get from Natasha are the numbers 222 and pennies from heaven. It was the second month and 22nd day that Coach Turner left so many of us with a heavy heart. It was the next day that I was cleaning the school when I found a penny by the front door and one by the side door. My thoughts were that maybe it was Coach and Natasha telling me that no matter what door you come in or out of, it’s what you do while you are in there is what you will be remembered by.
On the day of his services I was lucky enough to drive by as they were about to take him into the high school. We unloaded him and I walked down the hall one last time with the man that meant the world to me. Thank you, Coach, for never giving up on me and thank you for all the life lessons you put into this once scrawny kid who loved the woods.
Rest in peace my friend.