Steve Festa has decided to retire as head coach of Ceres High School’s wrestling program.
Festa, a 1998 CHS grad and former Bulldogs grappler, made the official announcement at the team’s year-end award banquet on March 24.
“It’s time to step aside and pass the torch to (assistant coach) Casey Paulino and the next group,” Festa said. “I’m at peace. I’m retiring from coaching. I don’t plan on coming back.”
“We’re all going to miss coach Festa,” Ceres High junior grappler Elias Saldana said. “He’s a great coach. He’s fun to be around. What makes him special is he really cares about all of his wrestlers.”
Festa, 39, stepped down to spend more time with his wife Jamie and daughter Alana.
He missed second-grader Alana’s Christmas performance and father-daughter dance due to his coaching commitment.
Steve and Jamie are expecting their second child together in July.
“My family needs me. I don’t want another person to raise my kids. I’ve already been more involved."Steve Festa
“My family needs me,” he said. “I don’t want another person to raise my kids. I’ve already been more involved. I’m painting the baby’s room this weekend.”
“We totally understand why he’s retiring,” Saldana said. “Family comes first.”
Festa coached at Ceres High for 13 years.
He was a walk-on head coach for the past seven seasons.
He assisted Jon Nowicki for six years.
Nowicki and Festa coached crosstown-rival Central Valley’s wrestling program during the school’s first year of existence.
“It was a family affair,” Festa said. “I couldn’t have done it by myself. My wife has been so supportive of me coaching.”
Festa helped Ceres High continue its tradition of excellence in wrestling.
“I was the CEO of Ceres wrestling,” he. “I had a lot of fun. It was very common for me to put in 12-15 hours a day during tournaments. I loved every minute of it. I got so many great memories.”
The Bulldogs finished in first place at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV Championships and claimed the Western Athletic Conference’s overall title during the 2016-17 school year.
Ceres High took first at the WAC Tournament for the second year in a row in 2017-18.
“I’m going to miss being in the corner and supporting my wrestlers,” he said. “I showed them what I was taught by the great men before me like Glen Nowicki, Bruce Scott and Jon Nowicki. I always tried to lead by example.”
Added Saldana: “He’s leaving the program in good shape.”
Festa was introduced to the sport of wrestling in middle school.
“I got cut from the basketball team in the seventh grade and the coach said I should try wrestling because I was so aggressive,” Festa stated. “I thought he was talking about pro wrestling—the WWF.”
Festa ended up wrestling a combined six seasons at Mae Hensley and Ceres High.
“I love the sport,” Festa said. “It’s a big part of my life and it will always be.”
Festa and his family will continue to support Ceres High’s wrestling team.
They plan on attending the Ceres Invitational and other events.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I still live here in this community. It’s going to be fun to watch the program continue to thrive.”