Long-time high school wrestling coach has made a positive impact in the county

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When Joel Labman stepped into the wrestling room at Oxnard High back in 2004, he weighed just 85 pounds and according to then head coach Rob Vieira, he was a bit immature.

While there were people in the program who weren’t sure that Labman could make it, assistant coach Scott Yvarra saw something in the skinny freshman that made him think otherwise. Over the following four years, Yvarra did what he could to inspire and motivate Labman. Yvarra’s words of encouragement and his ability to teach, worked wonders with Labman, who as a senior posted a mark of 53-8, and went 6-2 in the state tournament to place seventh, the highest finish among Ventura County wrestlers.

Over the last 15 years, Yvarra has been an inspiration to hundreds of wrestlers, starting in the late 90s at Channel Islands High and during stops at Oxnard High, Camarillo High and Simi Valley High.

“There are a lot of guys who claim to get into coaching for the good of the kids but don’t really mean it, but Scott is a guy who coaches for all the right reasons,” said Mike Murphy, whose sons Mikey and Shane were coached by Yvarra at Simi Valley. “He’s had a profound impact on so many kids, including both of my sons.”

Last summer, Yvarra was diagnosed with lung cancer, and since then he’s been battling the disease with the same heart and commitment that he brought into wrestling rooms around the county.

The news of Yvarra’s illness has inspired wrestlers around the county to do what they can to show their support and love for Yvarra.

The seniors at Oxnard High, and several under classmen, decided to wear white singlets all season to support Yvarra in fight. White is the Cancer Society’s designated color to show support for people’s fight against lung cancer.

After hearing the news, Shane Murphy asked Yvarra if he could wear a pair of his wrestling shoes during his matches this season.

Mike Murphy said the relationship between his son and Yvarra goes well beyond coach and athlete. It is one of genuine friendship. When Shane was battled through some injuries to his knee, it was Yvarra that he leaned on for encouragement and strength.

“Scott was in Shane’s corner every time he wrestled so he told me wearing Scott’s shoes has allowed him to feel like Scott is still there with him,” Mike Murphy said. “When he lost wearing the shoes, he felt like he had let Scott down. Shane just wants so much to make Scott proud of him.”

Murphy said when they initially heard the news about Yvarra’s illness, there was a sense of hurt and devastation in the wrestling room. But he said Yvarra has refused to let people feel sorry for him.

“He doesn’t want to dwell on his situation,” Mike Murphy said. “Scott is the definition of grace under pressure.”

As a man who has never sought the limelight, Yvarra gets very emotional when he thinks about what the wrestling community is doing for him.

“It means everything to me,” Yvarra said fighting back tears. “When I see kids doing things like that (wearing white singlets) it’s just so emotional for me.

“I have been so fortunate in my life to be associated with so many great kids and so many great people in wrestling. It’s the first time in 15 years that involved every day in wrestling. It’s been tough because I really love being with the kids and being involved with the sport.”

His sons Richard and Ryan got him involved in the sport when the started wrestling at Channel Islands in the late 90s. He also coached his stepson Jason Blakeman, who is now an assistant wrestling coach at Oxnard.

Initially Yvarra discouraged his two oldest sons from wrestling because he thought the sport might be too tough for them.

“But I knew if they could hang in there, it would help them develop confidence and build their confidence,” Yvarra. “Wrestling is a sport like no other when it comes to preparing a kid for life.”

Jason Blakeman has spent a lot of time with his step dad in wrestling rooms, first wrestling for him and then coaching with him.

Having your dad coach you can be a difficult situation, but Blakeman said Yvarra had the ability to know when to be a coach and when to be a parent.

“It was inspiring to have him in the room because it made me want to do well,” Blakeman said. “It was also a challenge because he got on me more than some other guys. But when we left wrestling, we went back to being father and son.”

Yvarra said Yvarra entered his life when he was 10. They always had a good relationship, but he said when he returned home from college about 10 years ago, they became best friends.

“He is an inspiration to me and everyone else he comes into contact with,” Blakeman said. “He came out to our dual match with Camarillo and his presence created a sense of urgency for our kids.

“They know what he’s fighting and that he helped build this program and I think they all wanted to give a maximum effort for him that night. Even the kids that lost, they lost the right way.”

Blakeman said watching his Yvarra inspire the wrestlers he came into contact with has made him work hard to be a better role model for his wrestlers.

“It’s hard to see him in the state he’s in, but seeing him in moments like last week (at the dual meet with Camarillo) seeing him so happy, makes it a little easier. He is an example for all of us.”

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