There are several matches at the 2023 Final X event, where club...
New Mexico’s Lopez family helps kids grow
Photo: The Lopez family — (from left) Analisya, Anita, Chris, Andres “Rambo” and Cierra — have created a family atmosphere at the New Mexico Junior Wrestling Club in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
By Bill X. Barron
In the community of Las Vegas, N.M., there is more than a sheriff in town. Sheriff Chris Lopez is also the coach and founder of the city’s West Las Vegas Jr. wrestling program, led by his seventh-grade son Andres “Rambo,” an RMN 13U/15U triple-bracket Showdown champion.
“Being a coach shapes my perspective as sheriff,” Lopez said. “My mission in both roles is to have compassion and show respect. Treat people with dignity, and you will get it back in return. While some communities resist embracing law enforcement, here we strive to give back.
“We teach kids values as well as wrestling. As a team, we spend a lot of time together in the gym and on the road traveling. They become family; for some, more than they have ever known. For these kids, Rambo is not just a teammate but a mentor in school and in life.”
Rambo has learned to value “hard work, discipline, and self-respect. To be successful in wrestling and life, you need to be disciplined in order to reach your goals.
“Wrestling has taught me that I have to work through adversity. Through wrestling, discipline comes into your life naturally.”
“In our club, youth have an opportunity to experience the success one may not have found elsewhere,” Chris said. “Some are not on the right path. All I care about is that they are in the wrestling room which gives me the opportunity to show them a different way.
“Many are troubled kids who learn trust and respect through hard work. We prepare them to head in the right direction, to become our future leaders. They have an advantage over their peers, for now they have the resources and the ability to choose a different avenue.”
Inspired by their gains in self-esteem, WLV Jr. wrestlers are reminded that they have an obligation to help the community that has raised them. Wrestlers engage in team-sponsored community service through activities such as food and gift drives around the holidays.
For the Lopez clan, wrestling is family. Chris’ wife Anita is the team mom, while oldest sister Analisya serves as high school team manager, where she “reminds the wrestlers to be consistent, especially in practice. You’re not going to get better if you’re not willing to put in the work.”
Analisya also “enjoys watching Rambo beat kids he lost to before. That’s always the case.” Younger sister Cierra loves being on the road and traveling to new places around the country.
Nicknamed Rambo before he left the womb, Andres has lived up to his calling. On the mat, he is a firecracker, just waiting to explode. He wears down his opponents with his relentless attacks; then he surgically dissects their defense, finding the best way to take advantage of an inevitable mistake.
Off the mat, Andres is approachable, cordial and respectful with a welcoming smile for one and all. In his head, he replays his mother’s teachings: “When you feel like breaking down or giving in, there’s always someone watching you, even off the mat.”
“We travel across the country not just for the awards or trophies,” Anita continues. “We are gaining experience to get ready for the next level, to build the foundation for the future.”
As team mom, Anita has learned to help parents by getting kids registered for AAU and even to help young kids master the basic moves.
“If parents get upset with an official, we remind them that kids learn from their actions and their actions reflect back on the club and the coaches,” she said.
“We’ve never charged families a penny for our services. We recycle wrestling shoes and headgear. No kid needs to ask for anything, we try to help any way we can by giving rides and taking kids with us to tournaments.”
The WLV Jr. Wrestling program particularly enjoys RMN Events, where “we build relationships with kids and coaches from all over the country,” said Chris.
“Our goal is for Rambo to earn the Triple Crown (titles in three states) and the Golden Gear (four RMN championships).”
The dream began in 2016 when Chris was seeking a way to get Andres started in wrestling. He partnered with Rey Gallegos to form the Jr. Dons Club, which he now coaches with Roland and Sean Medrano.
In New Mexico, where eighth graders compete in the high school division, Rambo seeks to become a five-time state champ and earn a college scholarship to compete for Iowa.
Yet, even before Rambo reaches the next level, West Las Vegas’ Jr. program has already produced results.
In 2021, West Las Vegas won it first high school state championship under the direction of coaches Juan Montano and Steve Sanchez.
“Wrestling is a lesson in life experience,” Chris states. “If they throw their headgear, they run. It’s rewarding to provide these kids with a second chance.”
Anita adds: “We teach kids that it is possible to learn from your mistakes.”
Chris coaches by the philosophy that “parents cannot go everywhere or pay for everything, so we help them as much as possible. I don’t mind being a parent to this community.
“Parents, teachers, and principals call to express appreciation for the positive effect that our wrestling club has had on their kids. In turn, the kids learn they are in a position to make a difference in our community.”
Reshaping the lives of young people through the vehicle of wrestling has become an all-encompassing vision for New Mexico’s Lopez family: Chris, Anita, Analisya, Andres, and Cierra.
The sheriff has come home. Led by character-defined wrestlers who are now empowered to create their own destiny, his mission evolves from law enforcement to integrity enhancement.