Walter Ford

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February 21, 2014
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Sumner & son: Family has devoted a lifetime to wrestling

When Nevada Union senior Will Sumner steps onto the wrestling mat, he’s intent on letting his opponents know that they have walked into battle and they’re not going to win.

“I definitely want to set the tempo and let the kid know how the match is going to be,” Sumner said. “Never let them think they have a chance. The first 30 seconds are crucial. You can’t sit back and let them dictate. You have to set the tone.”

Sumner, who turned 18 on Friday, has been wrestling for much of his life with great success.

As a four-year varsity wrestler at Nevada Union, Sumner has won several tournaments along the way, including the prestigious Tim Brown Memorial Invitational, and has notched two Sierra Foothill League titles, one as a freshman and another this year in his senior campaign.

Sumner, who currently wrestles at 170 pounds, is known for his impressive technical prowess and has a passion for the sport that very few do. But, to understand where that fervor comes from, one must start at the beginning of Sumner’s wrestling journey — a journey that started when Sumner was barely out of diapers.

Sumner’s father, Gary Sumner, is Nevada Union’s head wrestling coach and has been the primary coach for Will since he was 3.

“My dad would always take me to practice with him when I was like 1 or 2 and stuff,” Will said. “He was a coach at the high school and he would drop me off in the stands in my little singlet.”

Gary said he wanted to get Will into wrestling because of the many benefits he reaped from the sport while wrestling at Gonzales High School, in the Air Force and at Sacramento State.

“Wrestling changed my life,” Gary said. “My high school coach challenged me my freshman year to come out, and he was a great mentor and role model that I still keep in touch with. The hard work and dedication helped me to get the grades in college to get into dental school, and when kids in dental school complained about the long days of academics, seeing patients all day and then lab work and homework all night, it was easy for a wrestler to outwork everybody.”

Will won his first wrestling medal when he was 3 years old and from there it has been a 15-year ride that has seen him win middle- school state championships, join the national team and be a force for the NU squad.

The whole time, Gary has been on the side of the mat, coaching and cheering him along.

“It’s been awesome for me,” Gary said. “He got pretty good, so when you win state you go to nationals, so we drove to Utah, we drove to Pocatello (Idaho), we flew to Oklahoma and Virginia and all these national tournaments, and I got to spend lots of time with him. It’s been awesome, I really value that time. Its been really special.”

Gary and his wife, De Ann, moved to Penn Valley in 1997, when Will was just 1. At that time, Gary was offering his wrestling acumen to Nevada Union as a volunteer coach with the wrestling team.

He remained with the Miners until Will was a fourth-grader at Pleasant Valley Elementary. That’s when Gary started the wrestling program there, which is still going today. Once Will reached high school, Gary then rejoined the coaching staff and has been the head coach the last two seasons.

As the primary coach for his son, Gary said he at times has trouble separating the father side from the coach side, but is improving.

“I’m learning to be more of a coach and less of a father,” he said.

“I’ve done it for so long that I’m pretty good at it. When the father side comes out, I get too loud. As a coach, I’m more focused. It depends, if it’s a really big match I can still become a father, which is kind of embarrassing.”

Will is currently focused on getting to the state tournament and possibly nationals, but his wrestling dreams extend beyond high school.

Will said he wants to win a collegiate national championship and one day be an Olympic-level wrestler.

“Right now I’m focused on my season,” Will said. “But after school, it will be non-stop. That will be the No. 1 thing once college is over and I get my education.”

But that’s the future, and right now Will is relishing his senior season and enjoying being part of the team.

“We are like a brotherhood,” he said. “That’s what is cool about NU wrestling. There’s never been any hazing or anything, we’re like one big family. I love those guys, they just crack me up.”

With just four wrestlers left competing for NU, three of which are sophomores, Will has embraced the leadership role.

“He has been great this last month,” Gary said. “He has become the ultimate team captain. He gives speeches, runs stretches and drills, sprints, he’s just fantastic. He’s good at talking to them after losses and stuff like that.”

With 15 years of wrestling under the Sumners’ belts, both Gary and Will acknowledged the matriarch of the family, De Ann, for all that she does for the family and the team.

“She makes sure I don’t overdo it; she’s really good for me in that aspect,” Will said. “Reminding me that life isn’t all about wrestling. She makes me relax and makes me take days off here and there.”

De Ann is the consummate team mom, said Gary, whether it’s developing fundraisers, running the snack shack or simply supporting the team.

“She does it all,” Gary said. “She is amazing.”

Will has yet to decide where he will further his education after high school but did show interest in going to Europe to continue his education and his wrestling career.

For Gary, he said he looks forward to spending more time with his daughter, Bethany, who is a competitive cheerleader on the A-Train team based out of Yuba City, which placed first in a recent competition.

But, when asked if he would do all the travel, all the paper work, all the long hours in the gym over again, the answer was an emphatic, “yes.”

“I love wrestling,” Gary said. “I’m a fan of the sport, and the biggest thing is the time I got to spend with Will.”

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email

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The Union Updated Feb 21, 2014 11:48PM Published Feb 23, 2014 11:17AM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.