College

Saturday, Jul 20 2013 09:02 PM

Coach Kerr's life celebrated

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    By Rod Thornburg / Special to The Californian

    Current Cal State Bakersfield wrestling coach Mike Mendoza tells one of many stories about his mentor and ex-wrestling coach to hose who came to memorializes the late TJ Kerr's 26-year history as CSUB's head wrestling coach.

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    By Henry A. Barrios

    CSUB wrestling coach T.J. Kerr celebrates a victory by Christian Arellano during a match against Stanford in 2003.

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    By Henry A. Barrios/The Californian

    CSUB wrestling coach T.J. Kerr celebrates a victory by Christian Arellano in this 2003 photo.

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    By Rod Thornburg / Special to The Californian

    A wrestler Coach TJ Kerr trained in 1979 -1983 talks about his friend and ex-wrestling coach with those who came to memorialize Kerr's 26-year history as CSUB's head wrestling coach. Coach Kerr died at age 64.

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    By Rod Thornburg / Special to The Californian

    CSUB's head track coach, Charlie Craig, speaks highly of his friend and colleague, wrestling coach TJ Kerr, at the celebration of life held Saturday. Kerr died at age 64.

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    By Rod Thornburg / Special to The Californian

    Jeff Smith, a wrestler Coach Kerr trained in 1979 -1983 while at San Jose State, talks about his friend and ex-wrestling coach to the those who came to memorialize Kerr's 26-year history as CSUB's head wrestling coach. Coach Kerr died at age 64.

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BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer jevans@bakersfield.com

Terrence John Kerr was tough. No one disputes that.

He never minced words. If he disagreed with you, you'd know it. He wasn't someone who would soft-pedal it.

"You knew where you stood," said Charlie Craig, Cal State Bakersfield's longtime track coach who retired in 2005.

Kerr, who died June 6, was CSUB's wrestling coach for 26 years. A Celebration of Kerr's Life was held Saturday afternoon at the CSUB Icardo Center.

Kerr loved the outdoors. He talked politics, religion and many other topics with anyone. But wrestling was his passion.

"He was old school and it worked," said Mike Mendoza, who wrestled at CSUB and was an assistant coach for Kerr before succeeding Kerr as the Roadrunner head coach in 2010.

Dozens of Kerr's former wrestlers were at Saturday's event. Prior to CSUB, Kerr coached 12 years at San Jose State, and several former Spartan wrestlers were in attendance, as well.

The theme was similar for each of the six speakers: Kerr's toughness, intensity, hard work and dedication.

"He wanted everyone to be tough," said Kerr's finest wrestler, Stephen Neal, a former World Champion and two-time NCAA heavyweight champion who followed his wrestling career with a successful NFL career. "Fighters ... he wanted us to be fighters. ... and stubborn."

Neal added: "Those traits helped his teams be so successful. We had those character traits."

"He cared about every kid in his program," said Darryl Pope, who wrestled for Kerr at San Jose State and CSUB and later became Kerr's assistant coach for the Roadrunners.

"He took lesser athletes and turned them into champions," Pope said. "He did that for champion after champion. His wrestlers competed with the very best at the top level.

"His level of success has never been seen by any other West Coast program."

Mendoza said Kerr's hard-driving motivation methods were often tough to stomach.

"Me and the older wrestlers appreciate that more now than then," Mendoza said. "He will forever be a mentor to me."

Jeff Smith, who wrestled for Kerr at San Jose State, said Kerr was a teacher first.

"His delivery could be touch and hard to accept as a young man," Smith said. "His keys to success was not quitting, strong work ethic and discipline. Coach was all about relationships."

Lou Montano, CSUB's director of testing, was an assistant coach for Kerr for five years and then the head coach at Columbia before returning to CSUB in 2000 in his present position.

"He had a great impact on a lot of us," Montano said. "Without my time at Cal State Bakersfield, I would have not had the opportunity of coaching at a prestigious university like Columbia. We're going to miss him."

Jim Lucas was a teammate of Kerr's when both wrestled at San Jose State and then was with the Spartans when Kerr made his coaching debut. Lucas was a Masters World Champion in 2002.

"The two most intense people I met in my life: Dan Gable and Terry Kerr," Lucas said.

Gable was one of America's all-time greatest wrestlers and was also a notable collegiate and Olympics coach.

Mike Stricker, president of the Coyote Club, Kern County's wrestling boosters group, said: "We had our differences, but he was a great supporter of all wrestling, youth and high school."

Kerr won multiple coach of the year awards and was inducted into three halls of fame: California Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2005, the Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame in 1999 and the San Jose State Spartan Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008.

Kerr's teams compiled a 421-211-7 dual meet record, including 239-141-4 at CSUB.

He was president of the National Wrestling Coaches Association from 1993-96. During that time he led the fight to reform Title IX and even addressed a U.S. Congress subcommittee. He argued that Title IX, which was passed to creat more athletic opportunities for women, was hurting men's sports because it took away opportunities for men's sports teams and individuals.

Kerr then added several women to his CSUB team. While women's wrestling was not an official NCAA sport, his women wrestlers competed in various tournaments.

Kerr retired as CSUB's coach in 2010 to help reduce the program's budget by eliminating his salary.

That followed an announcement by university President Horace Mitchell that wrestling was being eliminated for cost-cutting reasons.

Mitchell later allowed wrestling to return but it had to raise all of its own operating capital.

Kerr resigned, with his longtime assistant (and lower paid) Mendoza named his replacement.

"Many on our (athletics department) staff thought he was only out for wrestling," Craig said. "That was not correct. He was for the success of the entire athletic program at Cal State."

A Kern County Coroner's spokeswoman said Friday the cause of Kerr's death has not been determined.

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