NEWARK -- It was fitting, in its own way, that the last match Albany High wrestling coaching icon Kermit Bankson would coach was for seventh place at the North Coast Section tournament on Feb. 23.
"It's been a nice run," Bankson said as he prepares to retire after 43 years as head coach at Albany, a tenure which made him the dean of coaches in the NCS. "A lot of people came up and shook my hand and said 'Hello,' people I don't even know."
Albany sent seven wrestlers to the tournament, though only two -- Garen Pelesauma, at 152 pounds, and Cyrus Wafford, at 120 -- made it through the second day of the double-elimination tournament.
"We got a couple of kids through the second day, and that's what you want to do," Bankson said.
It ended with a victory, when Garen Pelesauma edged Eric Oeth of Campolindo for seventh place at 152 pounds.
"It felt great; it felt like I had to win it for the team, and for Coach Bankson most of all," Pelesauma said. "It was Bankson's last match, I was the last person in for Albany. I'm sorry I couldn't get any higher; I was trying for third and trying to go to state."
Pelesauma said it was an especially emotional week of practice leading up to the tournament, as the Cougars wanted to give Bankson a memorable send-off.
"Everybody had something in their hearts, and we practiced harder than I've ever seen in my wrestling career," Pelesauma said. "He's helped me a lot through wrestling, but more than that he's helped me mature. I'm a better person in the world and that's because of Bankson."
During his career, Bankson has coached two wrestlers who placed at the California Interscholastic Federation state championships, and has had a handful of NCS medal winners. Though the medals are badges of honor and achievement, it's always been more important to him, he said, for his wrestlers to be successful after they leave the sport.
"Everybody likes to win, it just makes you feel better," Bankson said. "But it's more of what they get out of this and can carry on later."
Bankson, who wears an irrepressible smile, said that his last NCS tournament hasn't been an emotional experience. There's been too much work to do, he said. The memories will come later when he's chasing his grandkids around his house instead of chasing wrestlers around the mats.
If Bankson had any hopes of leaving quietly, those were dashed before the consolation finals. NCS Commissioner Gil Lemmon presented him with a plaque in commemoration of his years of work and service to the sport as a coach and teacher, which was greeted by a long round of applause.
"They won't just let me get out of the gym quietly," he said.