The Central Valley wrestling community was saddened by the death Thursday of Gary Quintana, a former Selma High and Fresno State star.
Quintana died at age 45 of an apparent heart attack. He was surrounded on his final day by, among others, his former Fresno State coach Dennis DeLiddo and former Selma and Fresno State wrestlers.
Quintana, a Clovis resident who has coached at the high school and youth level since his college days, passed away after conducting a workout with the Selma Youth Wrestling Club. His nephew, Tristan Lujan, was one of the participants.
He is survived by his daughter, Aryanna, and grandson Judah Ryan Garcia, both of Clovis.
“I woke up this morning and I haven’t been able to think of anything else,” DeLiddo said Monday. “I know I’m going to miss him. It really puts life in perspective. It’s a shame he had to go so young.”
Quintana, an All-America wrestler at Selma High, won a state championship his senior year with the Bears. He was inducted into the Selma Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013.
At Fresno State, he won several conference championships and twice qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
He also won a prestigious national championship before college, prompting the attention of big-time colleges.
“Coaches were saying ‘Who is this kid?’” said Eric Mares, a former teammate of Quintana’s at Selma High and Fresno State. “DeLiddo was saying ‘He’s my kid – you can’t sign him anymore.’”
DeLiddo was close to Quintana during his Fresno State days, even sitting in the sauna with him when Quintana was cutting weight.
Beyond competing, Quintana is being remembered as a good-natured man with a perpetual smile who loved coaching youth. He was the head coach at Clovis North High, an assistant at Clovis West and Bullard high schools and most recently the coach at Granite Ridge Middle School in Clovis.
Despite living in Clovis, he also took the time to help out the youngsters in Selma where he grew up. That includes his nephew, Lujan, a star at Selma High.
“Gary put so much time into youth coaching,” Mares said. “He was building a foundation, making kids better.”
Sam Lopez, the Selma High boys wrestling coach, who was a teammate of Quintana’s at Fresno State, agreed.
“He loved coaching,” Lopez said. “Everywhere he’d go there would be 5-10 kids around him listening to him talk about wrestling."
Tributes on social media poured out.
“Coach Q – one of the most genuinely kind and respectful coach/educators I’ve had the pleasure to work with. Prayers to the Quintana family,” wrote Janis Tatum on Twitter.
Quintana is from a wrestling family, with his uncle Nick Quintana having coached the Selma High team for many years and his cousin, Nicky, also starring for the Bears. Diego Quintana, also a cousin, qualified for state twice while wrestling for Selma and Clovis high schools.
Quintana finished second in the state as a sophomore and fourth as a junior before winning it all as a senior. Watching proudly that day was his father Ismael Quintana, a farm worker devoted to his family who was known for driving Gary and his less-fortunate teammates to tournaments and making sure they all were fed.
“My dad always kept me busy,” Quintana told this newspaper in 2013. “He kept me in the workout room, working toward something. Every off-season I was training.”
When Quintana’s wrestling days were done, he kept up the tradition, dedicating himself to young people, right up to his last breath.
“He died doing what he loved – wrestling and coaching,” Mares said. “Not too many people can say that.”