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AZTEC – Aztec High School athletics has lost one of its most celebrated coaches.

Jerry Parker, who served as the Tigers’ head wrestling coach from 1966-1978, died on Sunday. He was 73 years old.

Parker was Aztec’s first individual state champion in wrestling, winning a state title as a junior in 1959, then repeated as state champ in 1960. After graduating in 1960, Parker went on to wrestle at the University of New Mexico.

As a coach, Parker guided the Tigers to four district titles, two state runner-up finishes and the 1971 state title — the school’s second state title. He was named the state’s coach of the year in 1971 and 1975.

The Aztec wrestling program, which was started by legendary Aztec football coach Fred Cook as offseason workouts for football players, may never have gone on to be a dominant force at the state level had it not been for Parker.

“Coach Parker was not only a good wrestling coach, but he was a great person who really had feelings and considerations for his students and athletes,” said former Aztec head coach and current assistant Herb Stinson. “It wasn’t a job, it was his life. I like to think that I have followed that pattern,”

Parker had such an impact on Stinson that Stinson decided to follow in Parker’s footsteps and become a wrestling coach. Stinson succeeded Parker as the head wrestling coach at Aztec and led the Tigers to 11 straight state titles from 1990 to 2000.

“I had a pretty good run because of him, and I devote everything that I’ve learned and accomplished to him,” Stinson said. “He was Aztec’s first state champion, and every state champion we’ve had, all 104 of them, have been part of him. He was the spirit of Aztec wrestling.”

After retiring from coaching, Parker got involved in officiating, and officiated seven state tournaments.

In 2007, Parker was inducted into the New Mexico Wrestling Hall of Fame, and in 2013, he was part of Aztec’s inaugural class inducted into the school’s Hall of Honor.

Although Parker is not around to leave any new impressions on Aztec wrestling, Stinson said he won’t let any of the current Tigers forget how important Parker was to the program.

“I won’t let it die,” Stinson said. “They hear the history of Aztec wrestling from me consistently. Obviously, there are some who didn’t know him or understand him, but with my continued push and harp, everyone knows who he was. The Aztec wrestling nation had a moment of silence for him, and they all know why.”

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.

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