Eugene J. Cerino is considered by many as one of the “Washington Forefathers of Wresting.” Gene is credited for creating two high school programs, laying the foundation for the current format of the WIAA State Wrestling Tournament, and building international relations with wrestlers from across the world.
Gene’s first stint in wrestling occurred during his time at Castle Rock High School where he convinced then-superintendent, Herb Hansen, to start a wrestling program which he coached for three years.
In 1959, Gene was hired at Auburn High School to build another wrestling program. Twenty years later, Gene had amassed five league championships, four regional titles and clinched five top four finishes at the State Wrestling Tournament. During his tenure at Auburn, Gene coached five individual state champions and 17 place winners.
While at Auburn, he was a member of the Wrestling Coaches Association, a position he held for eight years. With the help of Dick Pruett, a coach at Kent Meridian, the two worked out a method of dividing the state into four regions so that each region could send four wrestlers to the State Tournament. This system remains the backbone of the State Wrestling Tournament. Gene continued his pursuit of enhancing wrestling when he was appointed to the National High School Rules Committee, a term that lasted six years. Gene, along with eight high school coaches representing the eight different sections of the United States, sanctioned the printing of the first High School Rule Book for the sport of wrestling.
As an appointed member of the Official Wrestling Committee, Gene proposed several program changes including one on allowing international events. This allowed Washington State high schools to participate in athletics or activities on an international stage. On January 2, 1970, the first sanctioned international athletic event took place in the Auburn High School gymnasium. A team from Japan competed against an all-star team from the Puget Sound League. Gene followed up the event by taking a wrestling team to Japan to compete in eight cities for a 23-day trip that was hosted by the Japanese Wrestling Federation. Due to his success with this international competition, he was coined the “father of the cultural exchange” in the state of Washington.
Gene coached during a formative time in the history of Washington State prep wrestling and played a significant role in the development of the sport allowing it to reach peak levels of student-athlete participation. He received a Lifetime Service to Wrestling Award from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Gene stays connected by remaining a substitute for the Auburn School District and returns to the Mat Classic every year to present medals as a member of the Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame.