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Wrestling defined coach's life

Edward Lewis Goodpaster was born May 10, 1943, in Moreland, Ky. When he was 2, his parents moved the family to Dayton, Ohio. And while growing up there, Goodpaster found himself in a few scrapes.

He was told his best bet to stay out of future trouble was to get into athletics, and that's when he discovered wrestling. He dabbled in pro wrestling, wrestled at Fairmont High School, then at Miami of Ohio in 1964 before heading south to finish his degree at South Florida.

He got his first head coaching job at Bradenton Manatee in 1965. Three years later, he went to Slippery Rock as an assistant to pursue his master's degree. He returned to Manatee for seven years and coached at Pinellas Park from 1977-78.

Then he was at Florida State, studying for his doctorate for two years and teaching wrestling. In 1980, he coached at Chamberlain for seven years then quit to join the family business. He returned to the field as a volunteer coach at Tampa Prep from 1990-94.

In 1994, he left to take the head coaching job at Land O'Lakes, where after six seasons, he retired this year.

In his 32 years, Goodpaster coached five state champions, and more than 50 of his wrestlers placed at state. His best finish at state was second with Bradenton Manatee in 1973.

Before his retirement, he talked with staff writer Jamal Thalji about why he left, how he almost ended up in pro wrestling and the future of the sport.

JT: You've built Land O'Lakes into a county and regional power during your tenure yet always knew the team would be held back at state because you couldn't find enough dedicated lightweights to put the Gators over the top. Did that play a role in your decision to retire?

EG: It's not just the fact I can't get the lightweight kids out. I'm 58. I can't wrestle as good on the kid as I want to. I don't think the kids relate to me as well as the kids I've had for years. When I go up to a new kid, they don't relate to me the way I think they would to someone younger. I think they look at me as some fat old fart they don't want to be involved with. I think it hurts my recruiting.

JT: How hard has it been getting the lightweights out on the mat?

EG: Coaching is a young man's game. This is what I feel after the lack of responses I've gotten from the lightweights here. It used to be I'd get 90 percent of the kids I talked to would come out. Now I get less than 1 percent. I don't know if it's due to my age or what, but it's a losing situation. I really feel that possibly a younger man could do a better job in that area; someone who generates more enthusiasm with the kids.

JT: So how'd you end up in wrestling?

EG: I'd grown up in the inner city part of the town, where most of the population of the city was. And when I went to high school, it was quite a cultural shock. The school I went to, like 90 percent of their kids went to college. I had some problems making the adjustment with anger management and different things.

I ended up getting interested in athletics. I was virtually told to be in something every day after school for my own good. Wrestling was the thing that really hit it off for me. It was a situation where I had complete control of my life. I could decide what my best position on the team was.

JT: You had quite the attitude back then, didn't you?

EG: Oh yeah. It was coming from the streets like I did. I was my own person, doing my own thing. And in wrestling, your success or failure depended on what you yourself did. It was just a natural thing for me.

I had told the coach that when I was living in the inner city, I used to go down to a park and I got in with one of the professional wrestlers. We used to do professional wrestling stuff. And when I did go out (for high school wrestling), I was ahead of the regular high school wrestlers because I always had a sense of balance and feel.

JT: You, of all people, were a professional wrestler?

EG: Yeah, there was an old man, Ruffy Silverstein, he used to travel to all the fairs. You had to go in and put up so much money if you could wrestle him and if you could stay on the mat with him for three minutes to get a cash prize.

And what we would do is, I would work with Ruffy as a shill I guess it's called. I would put up the money, and I would stay with him for three minutes. And they would use that to build the crowd and get the crowd going and get them to put up their money. It was kind of neat.

JT: So why didn't you stay with it?

EG: When I first came to Florida, I was offered a pro wrestling contract in the mid-to-late 60s. It was very lucrative. But one of the problems was at the time, I was a little smaller than they liked, about 190 pounds. They wanted me to bulk up, and the way they wanted me to bulk up was with steroids. And I wouldn't do it.

JT: What do you remember about that era of pro wrestling?

EG: As a kid in the '50s growing up, wrestling was in its starting state. As a kid, my hero was a guy named Don Eagle. I saw the advent of Gorgeous George and that thing. We got to see them come into this park and do their wrestling thing.

We thought that was what wrestling was really about, just like many people today think (the WWF) is what it's really about. There was that glamour about it. But I was the first to find out it was fake because Ruffy and I did all the fake stuff before I even got to high school.

JT: So why coaching?

EG: The first thing you have to understand is the major influences in my life early on were with youth programs, the Boys Club and the local youth center. These were places you could go and be off the street and stay out of trouble and have fun.

Coaching is what I did from day one right on through high school and college. I coached Little League. In college, I coached wrestling, and I was involved in management at the Boys Club. Getting that first job and getting into coaching was the dream. That was what I wanted to do. It was fantastic.

JT: What is it that draws kids to wrestling?

EG: Maybe the joy the kids get out of it. Wrestling gives you a freedom to do things with your body that you can't do in any other sport. It gives you a sense of accomplishment, the knowledge that you know you can do anything you want with your body short of flying.

JT: What is wrong with wrestling?

EG: Weight control. Boys losing weight to make a weight class. To succeed, we get so wrapped up in how to win that the boys think the best way to win is to starve themselves to the point they stop living. And that's not the purpose (of wrestling) at all.

JT: Has kids' dedication and work ethic changed over the years you've coached?

EG: People say the kids have changed over the last 30, 40 years. But the kids haven't changed. Kids are still kids. What has changed are society's values and what we require of our children. The work ethic, "Work and you shall succeed" has been replaced by "Get rich and get lucky."