Knipfing’s Notes: A Tale of Two ChampionsMarch 2nd, 2013 at 9:00 am by Dick Knipfing under Latest Posts
We don’t know yet if Nick Chavez is a bully. It certainly sounds like he might be but he has yet to have his day in court.
Nick is the Rio Grande High School wrestler who won the state 195 pound championship last weekend for the second year in a row. He is very good, very big and very strong. In his first match at the tournament he took his opponent out in just thirty seconds.
Guys with that kind of size and ability have a commanding presence, especially in high school where many other kids are not very big or very strong. Nick Chavez is accused of misusing his size and strength to bully a much smaller student the Thursday before the tournament. He allegedly slapped the smaller kid hard in the face and took his money. It happened in the cafeteria as other students and a sheriff’s deputy assigned to the school, watched. The deputy cited him for larceny and battery and he will face a judge on those charges.
The Albuquerque School District followed its well established policy for dealing with such incidents and suspended Nick Chavez for three days, meaning he was ineligible for the state tournament. Three politicians, County Commissioner Art de la Cruz, State Senator Michael Padilla and School Board Member Analee Maestas then got involved. First they tried to pressure APS to overturn the suspension. When that failed, they encouraged Chavez to go to court. He did and his lawyer convinced a judge to grant a temporary restraining order against APS. That allowed Chavez to wrestle and win another title.
There’s been considerable public anger over the politicians’ involvement especially because bullying has become such a big issue. The politicos claim they were just trying to make sure that Nick Chavez’ due process rights were protected. APS, even though it lost the first round, isn’t about to submit. The district will ask the judge to overturn the restraining order. Obviously it’s too late to keep Chavez from wrestling. But, school officials want to prevent the courts from making it a habit of second guessing discipline policy. They also want to stand up for the principle of zero tolerance toward bullying. The second round of the legal fight is still ahead.
All this got me thinking about another, big, strong state high school wrestling champion. His name was Doug Zembiec. He won the 171 pound state championship in 1990 and 1991 as a student at La Cueva High School. He was La Cueva’s first state champion in any sport. He went on to the U.S. Naval Academy where he was an All American wrestler. His coach there called him the best conditioned athlete he had ever seen.
After graduation, Doug Zembiec ratcheted up his toughness significantly. He was commissioned in the Marine Corps and signed up for Force Recon. Members of that elite unit are the toughest of the Marine tough guys. One of his mantras was, “I’d rather live one day as a lion than a hundred years as a dog.” In Iraq in 2004 he became known as “The Lion of Fallujah” for his heroism in leading his company in the fierce battle for control of that city. He was wounded twice and awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star medals for bravery. His exploits are detailed in the book “No True Glory: A Front-line Account of the Battle of Fallujah” by Bing West.
Major Doug Zembiec was serving his fourth combat tour in Iraq when he was killed in a firefight in 2007. Tributes from his friends and comrades, especially from the enlisted men who served under him, were overwhelming. Just Google his name and you’ll find reams of material.
Writing about him and Nick Chavez, it’s hard not to stress their strength and and toughness. But there’s another thing about Doug Zembiec that is even more impressive. An Albuquerque Journal story about his life and death quoted Doug John, his best friend from La Cueva. John told the Journal that Doug Zembiec, the supremely tough guy who could have whipped most any kid anywhere, had a habit of confronting bullies who preyed on weaker kids. “He was always on the side of good, “ Doug John told the Journal.
Always on the side of good.
A defender of weaker kids.
A battler of bullies.
A true champion.
Maybe Nick Chavez, and the rest of us, ought to read that book.