Cancer survivor Simone has Monarchs roaring on the wrestling mat

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Mat Simone is a familiar face to anyone who has followed East County high school wrestling for the past two-plus decades. He’s served as either a head coach or assistant coach at eight Grossmont Conference schools over a 28-year span.

He is currently the head coach at Monte Vista High School. By his reckoning, he is on his second tour of duty in helping guide local prep mat programs.

Mat Simone is a familiar face to anyone who has followed East County high school wrestling for the past two-plus decades. He’s served as either a head coach or assistant coach at eight Grossmont Conference schools over a 28-year span.

He is currently the head coach at Monte Vista High School. By his reckoning, he is on his second tour of duty in helping guide local prep mat programs.

“I’ve coached a total of 28 years but there was a three-year break while I was out of coaching until I was cured of leukemia,” he said up front.

Simone began his coaching career at Santana and also coached at El Capitan, Grossmont, Mt. Miguel, El Cajon Valley, Granite Hills and West Hills before joining the Monarchs this season. 

In 2007 he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Treatment included a bone marrow transplant from his one and only older brother in conjunction with chemotherapy.

The chemotherapy treatments were intense, with medication delivered over a 24-hour period for seven days for each of the three sessions he underwent. 

“Leukemia is cancer of the blood,” Simone explained flatly. “They were basically trying to kill me without actually killing me. There is a 23 percent survival rate. I am one very fortunate guy.”

A native of Pennsylvania, Simone wrestled at the NCAA Division I level in college and was also an accomplished freestyle wrestler at the national level.

“In 1980 I had a choice of going to law school or waiting around for a boycott (of the Olympics),” Simone said. “I chose law school and that’s how I came to California. I decided to study law than pursue my wrestling career.”

He opened his own law practice in La Mesa in 1984 but couldn’t quite shake the wrestling bug. He turned to coaching at the high school level to satisfy that urge.

“Coaching wrestling is more than a hobby, it’s a passion,” he said. “You’ve got to love wrestling. It’s something I can’t get out of my system. It keeps me sane.”

As a cancer survivor, Simone admitted his outlook on life has changed. 

“It’s not so much about the wins and losses now than it is on how to make the kids productive citizens,” he said.

The Monarchs have been productive so far under Simone’s guidance.

Monte Vista has a 3-1 conference dual meet record, including last Thursday’s 41-27 Grossmont Valley League victory at cross-town rival Mt. Miguel.

The lone loss came by one point in a non-league dual against Grossmont.

“We’re progressing really well,” Simone said. “We’re turning into a better dual meet team than a tournament team. Some of our young guys are progressing really well. We’ve been very competitive.”

Standouts on this year’s team include junior 106-pounder Giovanni Pagan, junior 126-pounder Mario Hernandez, senior 132-pounder Alex Garcia and senior 220-pounder Brandon Rosete. 

The Monarchs hosted the annual Monte Vista Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 18, which served to showcase some of the finest wrestlers in San Diego County as well as serve as the program’s biggest fundraiser of the season.

The host Monarchs placed seventh overall in the 21-team field and walked off the mat with 10 medalists, including Rosete with the 220-pound individual title.

Rosete finished 3-0 on the day with three pins.

Other Monte Vista place-winners included Elija Pratt (fourth, 106), Ivan Tirado (fourth, 120), Garcia (fourth, 126), David Diaz (fourth, 138), Anthony Rojas (fourth, 220), Alan Elia (fifth, 285), Pagan (sixth, 106), Hernandez (sixth, 126) and Ray Davis (sixth, 138).

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