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Wrestling: For Cougars' Hernandez, a victory on eve of state tournament

12:00 AM, Feb. 08, 2013 EST

Spanish Springs Rito Hernandez celebrates after defeating North Valley's Mickey Castonguay in the 132 pound weight class during the Division 1 NIAA Region Wrestling Championship on Saturday afternoon, February 2, 2013 at Reno High School. / Tom R. Smedes/Special to RGJ

Spanish Springs senior Rito Hernandez IV carried the weight of other men when he won a Division I North region wrestling championship last Saturday.

Hernandez (47-13) threw his final regional opponent, North Valleys' Mickey Castonguay, showcasing his judo background with a move Spanish Springs wrestling coach Joe Imelli said earned him the 132-pound title and a No. 2 seed in this weekend's Division I state tournament.

It was fitting because the 17-year-old is used to handling a weight he says is much heavier -- the burden of a father with an addiction.

"Let's just say I use (methamphetamines) daily," said his father, Rito Hernandez III, over the phone earlier this week. "I don't know how much money I spend on it. ... This is a really bad, bad neighborhood (near Sacramento), and it's why I'm here and my family is there (in Reno)."

The elder Hernandez started his son in judo and wrestling when he was 13, and he said he never missed a match before the addiction took his life over.

"Of course, I wish my dad was there (to watch me wrestle all four years of high school and win a regional title)," Rito said.

Rito's mother, Jennifer Hernandez, 37, and his father divorced just before their son started at Spanish Springs.

"His dad was in his life all the way up until about three years ago when we went through a divorce and he relapsed," said Jennifer, who will work more than 12 hours a day to support her son and daughter Savannah, 14. "After that, his dad's been completely out of our life ..."

After Rito's freshman year, in which he failed a geometry class and barely earned a 2.0 GPA, his mother sat him down.

Jennifer outlined two paths, pointing out that he had "seen what can happen," down the one and that he had watched plenty of people in the family do the wrong things.

"She always knows how to bring me up when I'm down and cheer me up," Hernandez said. "I can just tell she genuinely cares, and she tells me not to let the bad things in my life get to me.

"And just seeing how hard she works at her job ... it just makes me realize that I need to work hard, too."

The choice was clear for Rito. He said he now maintains a 3.3 GPA and is considering which college he will attend.

And today, he starts what he hopes is a journey to the top of his athletic career -- a Division I state wrestling championship.

"Wrestling just helps me clear my mind of everything and focus, because I know I don't have to worry about anything else at that time," Rito said. "I still have a lot of work to do ... "

There is plenty for Rito to keep his mind on. He is part of a Spanish Springs wrestling team that won the Div. I North region team title last weekend, and one of four teammates to win the North individually in his respective weight class.

"For him to continue on wrestling has really kept him out of trouble," Jennifer said. "It's helped him overcome many of the tribulations we've dealt with for three years as a family and helped him become stronger for us."

Rito Sr. said he plans to be at the state tournament today at Reno's Livestock Events Center.




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