It takes commitment from any number of people to oversee a successful youth wrestling program, and for over 30 years, Western Dubuque has had the good fortune of having one of the very best working with its youth in longtime coach Dan Gotto. Western Dubuque’s Little Bobcat Wrestling Club and Bobcat Nation showed their appreciation and gratitude to Gotto during a surprise gathering at the Milestone Event Center, in Farley, Sept. 25.
Among those in attendance to pay tribute to Gotto was Western Dubuque head coach Paul Cleary.
“I first remember seeing coach Gotto from my time at Loras, and I thought to myself that is what a real wrestling person is like, as he is at everything,” remembered Cleary. “Keep in mind I was not teaching at WD when I first thought that. Then, as I began my teaching and coaching career at Western Dubuque, I realized he truly was a pillar of our wrestling program.”
Youth coach and Bobcat Wrestling Club board member Aaron Burds explained Gotto has played a big role in the growth of the Western Dubuque program.
“Program-wise, coach Gotto has been instrumental in really developing the kids, not necessarily only in wrestling, but teaching them how to work through things and how to be good teammates on and off the mat,” said Burds. “He didn’t really care about wins and losses as long as the kids were improving. He likes to make it fun and keep it interesting for the kids.”
Former Western Dubuque wrestling coaches Tom Kilburg and Tom Danner were among the crowd enjoying the event, and Danner recalled Gotto’s contribution to building the Bobcat youth program.
“I always said he was the backbone of our program. We had head coaches and assistant coaches, but the backbone was the youth program,” said Danner. “Dan was right there from the start. He’s one of the first generations of parents who got their kids involved.
“In most of the state, the youth program used to be the middle schools. It’s totally different today with all the youth programs and clubs. Danny was the guy that made it no charge. We wanted the kids to want to be there, not to be there because they were paying. He never tried to overkill it, he kept it at the youth level — a level they could have success at.”
1995 Western Dubuque graduate and current Baldwin-Wallace University head wrestling coach Jamie Gibbs made the nine-hour drive from Cleveland, Ohio with his family to be a part of the event. Gibbs shared thoughts on what makes Gotto special.
“I wrestled for coach Kilburg and coach Danner, and before that I wrestled for coach Gotto. My first wrestling tournament I didn’t even have any wrestling shoes, and I went up to coach and asked him if he would coach me. I became really good friends with him and his family,” Gibbs remembered. “There’s not a guy that’s done more for me and my wife than coach and his family.
“He comes out to Cleveland to help out. We hosted the national tournament and he came out to work it along with coach Danner. The Western Dubuque family is just incredible.”
Gotto was surprised and humbled by the big turnout.
“This is incredible. It just shows what the Bobcat community is all about,” Gotto said. “They stick together, they watch out for one another, and they are very appreciative.
“There have been so many kids that have been just amazing. You get all kinds of kids, and the one thing I really was passionate about was keeping it fun for the kids and to try to keep it free. It’s amazing the kids you never would expect to excel at it. Sometimes it just catches them right.”
Gotto has influenced the community’s youngsters, but it goes both ways, he said.
“They have had a big impact on me. I always felt I was getting more out of it than I was putting into it.”
Cleary summed up what Gotto has meant to the Bobcat community.
“Over his 30 plus years of volunteering, he has impacted thousands of youth wrestlers and their parents in an unbelievably positive way,” Cleary said. “Dan Gotto is the most loyal, selfless, hardworking and reliable person that there is. I hope that I can impact as many people as he has.”
Cleary paid Gotto the highest compliment possible when he said, “I had hoped he would stick around to help my own son fall in love with the sport, but I am very happy for him to move on into enjoying his winters as well.”