SYRACUSE – Standing outside of Joe’s Ice Cream on a sunny Monday afternoon in Syracuse, Jamie Salazar mulled his choices. Urged to pick a Razzle, Salazar went over his options. He went with a less indulgent orange slushie. Not the direction one would expect of a soon-to-be Hall of Famer.
It doesn’t take long to hear humble beginnings and a hard work attitude in Salazar. In between sips of his slushie, Salazar finds plenty to say about his coaching gigs and current lifestyle in wrestling. Asked about his election in Manchester University’s Athletic Hall of Fame, which will be celebrated this fall, and Salazar suddenly had less to say.
“It’s nice to be in the spotlight from time to time to be recognized for accolades, I guess it’s just not something I’m used to,” Salazar said under the shade of a Joe’s umbrella. “I’m putting so much of my time and focus onto other people to get them the recognition they deserve and helping build the Wawasee program to get it back to where it needs to be. I’m a die-hard Warrior, I’m an advocate for this community and the wrestling community as a whole. Maybe the day of I’ll be like, wow, this is for real.”
It’s not as if Salazar didn’t earn his place. He was ultra successful as a prep wrestler at Wawasee. He was destined to be, spending most of his childhood on the mats as his dad, Joe Sr., did in carving out a legacy for the family as did his older brother, Joe, Jr. On the other side of the family tree, the Melendez family members were notching their names in Wawasee lore, working as some of the first wrestlers in the program. Coming from a large family in general with plenty of wrestling heritage, a sporting lifestyle of greatness was just part of the Salazar fabric. In fact, his dad was a Golden Gloves boxer, his brother played professional baseball. And Jamie was carving out a legacy as a heavyweight for the Warriors.
Jamie made the jump to Manchester along with Wawasee assistant coach Darrell Carr Sr. and his two sons, Jason and Darrell Jr. in what was a strong pipeline from Syracuse to North Manchester. It wasn’t a leap to glory right away, in fact, Salazar found out the next level was more difficult than any high school dual. Sparring on the daily with Tony Vaughn, an All-American from Purdue going against an unassuming Salazar saw the rookie tossed around like a rag doll on the daily, as hard a visual as that may seem for Salazar who was checking in a couple bagels shy of three bills. It made life at the next level sound much like what many hear about of wrestlers striving for big returns.
Those were the building blocks to a Hall of Fame career.
Salazar went on to become a three-time All-America at Manchester from 2001-03. His 38 wins in the 2002-03 season ranks fourth all-time in the program, and he is fifth all-time in career wins with 118. He was the 2001 NCAA Division III National runner-up and finished in the top six the next two seasons.
Those who have been around Jamie know he’s hard-nosed and takes the wrestling life seriously. As a coach for the Vipers club team, a feeder program for his alma mater among other schools, and also a heavyweight coach at his former high school, this is where Salazar pins his identity. Coaching the Vipers with his brother, Joe, and wearing the colors of his alma mater Wawasee in the winter, Salazar intends to make his mark here.
“The Vipers, that’s the future, that’s where you’ll see the next wave,” Salazar said. “What we’re teaching to these young kids is more than just moves on a mat. We’re teaching these young people to be leaders off the mat as well. It’s about accountability. You can teach that at a young age and see it.”
Salazar has helped turn Wawasee’s high school program around. A tearful and pride-driven speech during a program open house before the 2017-18 season led into a sectional championship season that had the entire program graduate to the regional round sandwiching a Team State championship. Wawasee landed three in the state finals, prompting another season of high expectations coming into this past season. The Warriors were up to the challenge again, and with Salazar’s guidance, three more wrestlers made the state finals on top of another sectional championship, the 22nd in program history.
A return to glory of sorts for the Wawasee assistant coach.
“His passion, whether it’s for others or for what he is doing,” began Wawasee head coach Frank Bumgardner. “He truly is a special individual. You can tell it from his enthusiasm and the passion that he goes about anything that he does whether it’s as a coach, a competitor, a DJ, a friend, whatever. He will give his best effort regardless. He may not be the most talented individual, but you aren’t going to outwork him. He may not have the most resources, but he will utilize everything he has to the fullest.”
The orange slushie was about half-gone when Salazar laughed about whether the Hall of Fame tag would bring any more clout at the family dinner table. Insisting his mother, Rosa, would curb any head-in-the-cloud bragging, Salazar spun his 2001 National Championship ring on his right hand. Engraved with the bible verse from Philippians 4:13, Salazar truly believes he can do all this through Him who gives him strength.
“My grandfather was an immigrant, and came to this country with maybe ten bucks in his pocket,” noted Salazar. “He ended up having a family of 12 and was surviving and making a name for himself with a couple grocery stores. But he told me you have two things, your name and your word. That’s what you keep. I’d tell him I was tired, he’d tell me ‘you’re tired, you’re fired.’ That’s the mentality I grew up with, that’s what I’ve always been around.
“You paint that picture of what’s around you and you don’t settle for just being content.”
That’s what makes a Hall of Famer.