By Tadzio Garcia
First-generation American-born Francisco “Frank” Aceves has taken wrestling to another level. He applies what he’s learned from working with the sport into his everyday life and ambitions.
“It’s all about respect, hard work, being mentally tough and priorities. As a wrestler, you have to also be accountable in your life to meet the requirements the sport demands,” Aceves said.
Aceves gave up partying during each season as a member of the wrestling team when trying to lose weight to make a different weight class.
“Wrestling taught me about balancing my life. I had to make life choices like studying or dropping weight to wrestle in a different weight class instead of going out and having fun,” Aceves said.
At ELAC, Aceves adjusted his schedule each semester with his studies at the top of his list. He strives to keep his grades good enough to transfer to a four-year university, while working to contribute to his family and coaching at Bell High School, his alma mater.
“As a student he had a strong work ethic, always improving his level of maturity and responsibility. This is why we hired him as a coach,” Bell Assistant Wrestling Coach Ruben Pivaral said.
Pivaral was a 2011 All-American wrestler in the 184-pound weight class while at East Los Angeles College. Bell Head Wrestling Coach Mike Lopez was a 2009 All-American at ELAC.
“(Frank) is passing on his wisdom as a coach, on and off the mat, to the younger generation of kids,” Pivaral said.
Pivaral transferred from ELAC to UCLA where he earned a degree in English. He teaches English at Bethune Middle School in South Central Los Angeles.
“I am at a crossroads deciding to transfer and wrestle or not, but I will transfer. My major is nutritional science. I am going to be dietitian in a hospital, working with people on living with healthier lifestyle choices,” Aceves said.
Aceves was a co-captain of the 2013 ELAC wrestling team along with sophomores Omar Ochoa and All-American Hugo Perez.
“Frank was a great co-captain with me, he lead the team well. He was battling injuries last year but never changed his attitude in the (training) room. He was there every day no matter what. Frank definitely made a difference in the room….Frank was a huge part of that success we had as a team,” Perez said.
While he did not compile a winning record at ELAC, he wrestled with all he had until the final whistle blew in each match. “You’re never out for the count regardless of the score,” Aceves said.
His two-year career highlight was in the South Regional finals held at ELAC in December. At the time, Aceves was the lowest seed, No. 16, in the 184-pound weight class and was losing to top-seeded Nathan Rodriguez of Mt. San Antonio College.
“I was down 13 points in the third (last) period when he (Rodriguez) went in for a shot with a knee-cap move. I hooked his arm, shifted my weight, threw him on with his back on the ground and got a pin,” Aceves said.
The ELAC home crowd jumped and screamed and Aceves had the upset of the tournament.
He was sought-out as a potential wrestler while taking a physical education class at Bell. “I was trying to get in shape as a sophomore and a coach saw my work ethic and asked me to come out for the team. I knew nothing about wrestling. I picked it up fast,” Aceves said.
Aceves took second place at the LA City Section Junior Varsity Championships losing to teammate Juan Lucero in the title match.
Wrestling grew into a lifestyle for Aceves. “I think and breathe it every day, but sometimes I eat different when not competing,” Aceves said.
In his high school junior year, Aceves took advice from his father. He dropped wrestling to work. “He was teaching me about life, but he left it as my choice,” Aceves said.
Working gave him a foundation to build on. “Working taught me responsibility. I kept my grades up moving on to advanced placement classes,” Aceves said.
He returned to his love for wrestling and the team in his senior year, taking 5th place at the 2009 City Section finals helping Bell take second place.
He used this philosophy to transfer out of high school to Cerritos College, to add more pressure to his life (driving to classes) and working through it,. but he couldn’t get classes he needed at Cerritos because he did not have priority registration.
Ralph Valle, 19-year head wrestling coach at ELAC changed that.
“Valle recruited me to join the ELAC wrestling team. As a wrestler at ELAC, I had priority registration. I could focus on my major. ELAC made more sense in my life,” Aceves said. Valle also taught ELAC wrestlers they are brothers and wrestlers linked by a bond.
“There’s a difference between a guy who wrestles and a wrestler. The latter makes it a lifestyle,” Valle told me my first day at ELAC and it stuck in my mind. I have a great deal of respect for him,” Aceves said.
ELAC qualified four wrestlers at the state championships. Frank and other team members went to Stockton to support their brothers.
At the state finals Perez, William Amelong, Adrian Herrera and Joseph Magdaleno-Hudson wrestled to the shouts of their ELAC non-finalist brothers support and shouts while standing at the edge of their mats.
“(They) loved it, especially Hugo (Perez). I hope it helped. Hugo likes support from family, friends and his teammates,” Aceves said.
With his ELAC wrestling career coming to an end, he continues to practice with the team.
Aceves offers advice while coaching high school wrestling and finishing the needed curriculum to transfer.
“Frank continues to represent the ELAC wrestling program by teaching the younger generations. He is an awesome wrestler, coach, teammate and a great friend,” Ochoa said.
Aceves agrees he will keep his connection to ELAC when he opens the next chapter in his life.