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San Fernando's Jonny Parada makes history on the mat

The junior, 17, is the first City Section wrestler to win a state championship. Says Parada, who competes at 126 pounds: 'The lesson I learned is that anything can be done.'

March 07, 2013|Eric Sondheimer

Heisman Trophy winner Charles White, former major leaguer Gary Matthews and former USC running back Anthony Davis are among the greatest athletes in the 117-year history of San Fernando High.

Now Jonny Parada has earned a special place in Tigers lore.

The 17-year-old junior pulled off an athletic feat last weekend that no one in City Section history had achieved. He won the 126-pound wrestling title at the CIF state championships in Bakersfield.

Since the inception of the event in 1973, hundreds of City Section wrestlers had competed but never left as a champion.

The 5-foot-4 Parada made history.

"It didn't hit me when I won," he said. "It hit me afterward knowing what I had accomplished. I felt proud of myself that I did actually do it. I didn't think I could pull it off, but I did."

Parada was seeded No. 24 in the tournament and ended up winning five matches and defeated Wyatt Wyckoff of Paradise, 13-6, in the final.

"We've talked about it as coaches for years," San Fernando Coach Chad Solano said of the challenge of trying to produce a state champion. "It seemed such a huge mountain to climb. It would be the pinnacle of achievements if you could do it."

Parada remembers looking out at the stage from the tunnel where he was warming up, seeing the spotlight and hearing the crowd roar at Rabobank Arena.

"It was loud," he said. "They called my name, I ran up and got ready to wrestle. That's where it happened."

The journey Parada traveled to reach his shining moment started in the strangest manner.

He was born in a car as his parents drove to the hospital.

"The minute he arrived, he's always been a special kid," said his father, Israel Ortega.

Parada began to learn wrestling at the Boys & Girls Club in Pacoima when he was 8.

"I fell in love with it," he said.

When he arrived at San Fernando High as a freshman, he wrestled on junior varsity.

"He grew a lot and learned a lot," Solano said.

The summer going into his sophomore year is when he made a big jump. Parada became one of the City Section's top wrestlers. This year, his work ethic began to kick in. Five days a week, he'd rise at 5:30 in the morning and run for an hour at El Cariso Park near his home in Sylmar.

While classmates were just waking up, he'd be dreaming about what he could accomplish in wrestling as he'd run with his cousin, a middle school student. He also improved his classroom work after struggling as a freshman and sophomore.

Then came his moment last Saturday.

"We've always seen little moments that he had the 'it' factor," Solano said. "He'd do something and you'd say, 'Man, he's a special kid.' He's very athletic, really strong and has good mat awareness. He's been in big-time matches and has a poise about him. All the intangibles he has, it's hard to find."

Parada was offering hugs to everyone after the match. He probably would have hugged everyone in the crowd who was chanting "Jon-ny, Jon-ny, Jon-ny" if there weren't so many.

His father was too excited to speak.

"I don't even have words to describe the experience," he said. "I was on the verge of a heart attack."

On Monday morning at San Fernando, there was an announcement over the school public address system informing students of what Parada had done. Classmates he had never spoken to were coming up to congratulate him.

"The lesson I learned is that anything can be done," he said. "To follow your dreams, to work hard and at the end ... stay humble."

There has been lots of sweat and tears for Parada. Asked if it was worth it, he said, "Honestly, it was. It feels good."

Twitter: @LATSondheimer

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