For decades, teacher and wrestling coach Steve Wolfe positively affected the lives of hundreds of student-athletes in Homer and beyond. Coach Wolfe passed away Sunday after a four-month fight against a rare disease of the nervous system.
Steve Wolfe is well-known for fostering a love of the sport of wrestling in the Homer community for many years. His Homer Mariner teams won three state titles in the 1980’s. In 1986, he was named the national Wrestling Coach of the Year and in February of last year, he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Away from the mat, Wolfe was a teacher, a family man and an author of three books about wrestling and life in Homer.
Wolfe’s most recent book, “Call Us Olympians,” was published in 2007 and tells the tale of his most famous protégé, Tela O’Donnell. Wolfe was an early advocate of girls’ wrestling at a time when the sport was often met with a lack of acceptance on the part of school administrators.
In his last interview with KBBI, Wolfe recalled coaching O’Donnell when she was a young student at Homer Middle School.
"The principal wouldn't allow her to compete (because) wrestling and girls just didn't mix," he said. "But as a sophomore, she decided to go to the national tournament for girls and she won. And then she just kept getting better and better and better."
Tela O’Donnell went on to wrestle in college at Pacific University where, in 2002, she won a national championship. Two years later, O’Donnell was in Athens, Greece, competing for the United States in the 2004 Olympic Games.
In the foreword to “Call Us Champions,” O’Donnell wrote that it was Coach Wolfe who ignited her passion for the sport of wrestling. She said “his attitude was: if you want to wrestle, I am behind you 100 percent.”
Homer High School teacher and former football coach Cam Wyatt knew Wolfe for years and credits him for teaching and inspiring his own son, Mitch, a former Alaska state champion who now wrestles for Colorado Mesa University.
Wyatt says Coach Wolfe’s passion for wrestling was matched only by his desire to help and mentor kids. He says that even when Wolfe was into his fifties, he would sometimes strap on the wrestling gear and get onto the mat with other coaches and kids.
"He was a passionate advocate for ... developing an inner strength," said Wyatt. "He lived and breathed the wrestling ... way of life and if you knew him off the mat, you knew that all that man ever did was work hard, give to others and laugh when he could."
According to a website set up to help his family with medical expenses, Wolfe was diagnosed in August with Guillain–Barré syndrome, a disease that affects the nervous system. In November, his condition was complicated by a bout of pneumonia. Wolfe’s daughter, Rosemary, confirmed that he passed away Sunday night at about 6 p.m.
In the final chapter of “Call Us Champions,” Coach Wolfe takes a break from the subject of wrestling and writes about his own family and a life well-lived in Alaska.
“Alaska and wrestling had both been good for me,” he writes. “I hoped I had been good for them. I hoped that I might continue to make some contribution to what in my mind was the greatest sport ever and the greatest state ever.”