The Pins of the Father have led to some gripping drama at Dos Pueblos High School.
Senior Sean Yamasaki is attempting to boldly go where no area wrestler except his father has gone before: win a fourth Channel League individual championship and a CIF State title.
“It’s been almost 40 years,” said Mike Yamasaki, who accomplished both of those feats in 1982 during his own star trek at DP. “I’ve been fearful of telling anyone because I don’t want to jinx the kid.
“He could step on someone’s foot and sprain his ankle or get sick. You never know.”
His youngest son is the last of the Yamasaki clan to wrestle at DP. It began with Mike’s older brother Tim (Class of 1979) and continued with his younger brother John (Class of 1984). The Chargers of that era won the Channel League every year they had a Yamasaki.
“I’ve heard all the stories,” said Sean, who’s ranked among the state’s top 10 contenders in this year’s 132-pound division. “Sometimes it’s overwhelming.
“At other times it’s kind of nice to have everyone know your name, and to get that respect, because everyone knows the family well.”
Sean’s older brother, Aidan, won his third Channel League individual crown in 2018 while finishing third in CIF. His cousin Will, John’s son, won a CIF title that same season.
“We had three (Yamasaki’s) on that team,” said Mike, who has helped coach wrestling at DP ever since the completion of his own career at Utah State. “We’ve won six straight league titles since Aidan and Will came to DP.”
While Aidan and Will were making their Charger debuts, Sean was joining the Anaconda Wrestling Club run by then-DP head coach Anthony Califano.
Ironically, that’s when the brothers stopped their sibling spats.
“We didn’t want to injure each other,” Sean explained. “We’ll still wrestle every once in a while, when he comes home (from Cal Poly).
“It’s a little nicer now, not as much intent for injury. Before he had too much of a weight advantage, but now we’re kind of the same size so it’s 50-50 over who’s going to win.”
Sean is heavily favored to claim his fourth Channel League title when the conference tournament is held this Saturday in Lompoc. Only two others ever achieved that feat: Camarillo High’s Ron Wilson in 1971 and Mike Yamasaki 11 years later.
Several other DP wrestlers have come close to a state title. Tom Drawford (1985), Bob Leyva (1987) and Ati Conner (1996) all reached the championship match before losing. But only Mike Yamasaki ever went all the way.
“It was a little bit of an upset,” he recalled. “The guy I beat in the quarterfinals (Bakersfield’s Mel East) had won state in 1980 and then made the finals again in ’81 before losing in overtime, so it was a kind of foregone conclusion that he was going to win it.
“There was another kid who placed in state who ended up winning it the year after me. I beat both of those guys by four or five points. I picked a good day to have a good day.”
He defeated Vacaville’s Scott Lyons in the state final and was voted to the National High School All-America team. He was inducted into the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Hall of Fame in 2003.
Yamasaki’s son has had several good days this year, beginning with his championship at the Newbury Park Tournament. He was voted as the event’s Outstanding Wrestler of the Lower Weights after beating top-seeded Justin Mouritsen of Clovis in the final, 7-3.
He also won titles at the Asics So Cal Championships and the Silver Spring Tournament. He was third at the California Invitational Tournament in Morro Bay, losing only to the state’s No. 2 wrestler.
A fifth-place finish at the Battle of the Belt in Temecula was valuable as an instructive experience.
“It didn’t necessarily end the way I wanted it to, losing two really close matches against the top guys in the state,” Yamasaki said. “But it’s a top-tier event where you can kind of see where you’ll be at Masters.”
He’s been on a mission ever since a sprained ankle and a bout with mononucleosis led to his failure to place at last year’s CIF Masters Meet.
“The two guys I lost to ended up placing in state,” he said. “I was right there with that competition and I could’ve been up on that podium had things gone a little differently.
“It was definite motivation. I went to summer camps for wrestling, hit the weights a little bit, and learned a lot. I think it’s all helped me this year with my wrestling.”
Having a father as a coach helps, too. Mike Yamasaki remained on the staff this year after Kenny Breaux replaced Califano as head coach.
“We like to film our matches so we can go over them and see the things I’ve missed and need to work on, and also the positive things,” Sean said. “It definitely helps having that second person to watch my matches and help me learn and grow from them.”
His dad joined Mike Hart’s staff when he returned to town in 1986, helping DP win a CIF Div. 1 team championship in 1989. He took over as head coach in 1993, guiding the Chargers to a CIF runner-up finish in 1996. That was the year Conner took second in the state’s 152-pound division and Scott Erickson placed eighth at 145.
“I was about that weight, so I’d wrestle with those guys all the time,” Mike Yamasaki said. “But I was also 31, 32 years old at the time.
“I’ll show them moves now, but I won’t go full scrimmage with them. At 56, it takes me a lot longer to get myself up off the mat.”
His wife, Kate, makes just one demand of her son: Wear headgear at all times.
“Her one rule is no cauliflower ear,” Sean said. “If I get one, I’m not her son anymore.
“But she enjoys it, hanging out and watching me wrestle.”
So does Dad.
“It was really great to be in Will’s corner when he won CIF,” Mike said. “It was great to be in Aidan’s corner every time he won league, too, and all three of those were close matches.
“Every time I see them win, it’s extra special.”
And it will be a familiar ring that his son will enter these final weeks.
Mark Patton’s column appears on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org