Scott Air Force Base, Ill. – The high pitch of a whistle, small hands and feet slapping the mat, deep breaths, and an occasional cheer from a parent fill the wrestling room of a local high school during a youth wrestling club practice.
Behind that whistle and helping to prepare the O’Fallon Little Panthers Wrestling Club youth for victory throughout the season is Staff Sgt. Scott Luna, 375th Air Mobility Wing occupational safety technician.
It’s there that you can find Luna two nights a week, carrying on a family tradition of wrestling and coaching.
Luna said he began wrestling after being inspired by watching his older brother compete.
“When I first started wrestling, I went 0-15 my 7th grade year,” said Luna. “Didn’t win a single match, and I still loved it. My 8th grade year I actually started winning and it felt good, it finally started coming together for me and it got a lot more fun.”
The family tradition didn’t just stop at competing in wrestling, though. Luna said he took any chance he could to help his father and brother coach their young wrestlers as well. After his time in school came to an end, Luna decided to return to Sacramento, California to pursue coaching again at Florin High School. His chief motivation, was being there for kids who needed someone.
“It was fun, imparting knowledge and helping people get better at what I love,” said Luna. “I just wanted to give back to the sport. I didn’t come from a great area, so I went back to my old high school because the kids there didn’t have a lot of opportunity for sports and I just wanted to help out.”
Luna said he believes being in the Air Force while coaching, brings an important level of connectedness between Scott AFB and the local community.
“With people from base helping local children, we’re preparing them for the future,” said Luna. “We’re building stronger people from it, people with strong character just from surviving the sport.”
The relationship between coach and student is one that Luna takes to heart. He said watching his wrestlers learning throughout practice and then putting it together, or remaining resilient, during a match is nothing short of humbling.
“To see them out there working [hard], pushing past their limits is awesome,” said Luna. “To see the excitement on their faces when they’re winning, feeling like you did something to help them out is such a good feeling. It breaks your heart when they lose but you know it’s going to make them stronger as a person, to realize there are things they have to work on. You know they’re going to rebuild from it.”
With the focus of growing young wrestlers into strong-willed, competent adults, Luna aspires to continue coaching for as long as he can.
“I think I’m going to coach until I can’t physically step onto a mat anymore,” said Luna. “I don’t like being away from the sport for too long. It’s too much fun.”