The Character of a Town: “We Will Rebuild”
Paradise, CA’s Proud Wrestling Tradition
By Bill X. Barron – RMN Events Writer
For three harrowing hours, John Bunch did not know whether his brother Lance Garner had escaped the deadliest fire in California history, as it completely ravaged over a dozen of his relatives’ homes in the midst of total devastation for the 27,000 residents of Paradise. As the name suggests, this serene valley hidden in the foothills a hundred miles off the coast north of Sacramento was known for its own weather pattern which is cooler by 10-20 degrees, for its peace-loving neighborly welcome to all-comers, and for its championship-caliber football and wrestling teams, all in a relatively crime-free environment.
No longer a retirement community, just one week before the November Camp Fire, the town of Paradise approved a 61-million-dollar grant to improve its community’s schools. This “awesome place to raise a family” (John) with its intersection of creeks and ponds is now altogether reduced to white ash and unrecognizable rubble, a vibrant northern California commonwealth now but a memory. As John tearfully relates: “Sixty years of family history erased.” John’s electrical contracting business is just one of thousands of structures all gone. Fortunately, his father, mother, two brothers, a sister, and many other family members escaped through pitch black smoke, a blaze which enveloped an entire town in mere hours.
For the past sixty years, the Bunch family has made Paradise their home, a place where all the aunts and uncles, as well as grandpa and grandma, resided. Home now for two dozen relatives is a vacant building in nearby Oroville surrounded by trailer homes. John learned his electrical contractor trade in his grandfather’s warehouse. John’s dad Bill coached the youth baseball which concluded its 2018 campaign undefeated while earning a trip to the All-Star championships. John has served as head football coach and youth wrestling coach for age group teams ranging from 5-11 years old.
John Bunch wrestled for the Paradise junior program. With 80 kids in their small-town youth wrestling program, John and Coach Robert Vanucchi at the lower level, as well as program head coaches Jeff Klassen and Shannon Magpusao, have fostered their athletic dominance. At the February 2018 RMN Events Rumble in Reno, where 1500 participants age 5-18 come from 30 states, Paradise took home four championship belts, including John’s daughter 5-year old Peyton. In the 2017-18 season, her second year of wrestling, young Peyton finished 22-2, earning the coed NorCal Elementary Championship at 40 pounds.
“Awesomely put together and run by super helpful people, RMN Events puts on quite the show,” says John. Even though the tournament had so many entrants, John is thankful that they allowed Peyton to register the night before; “otherwise she would not have been in position to win her belt. Because the RMN tournaments open with a prayer and the national anthem, as the first wrestler on his mat, my son Jayden had the unforgettable experience of standing in the middle of the arena while the anthem played.”
Reflective of its residents’ character, although the size of the town qualified its football team for a smaller division, the athletic department has long elected to play in the state’s large-school league. Playing with pride and purpose, the football team has won seven of the last fifteen sectional championships. The legendary 2003-04 football squad’s defense outscored its combined opponents’ offenses over the course of a season. The town’s junior high football team recently completed its third consecutive unbeaten season, beginning its 30-game win streak in 7th grade, and finishing with an unblemished freshman season in the Fall of 2018.
Just as its championship teams have demonstrated their resilience and ability to overcome overwhelming odds, John proclaims: “We will make this community whole again. Together, we will be strong.” Paradise teams have long been a “thorn in the side” of area teams for their never-give-up mentality. With the “amazing support” of clubs in Chico, Oroville, Sutter, Yuba City, and Orland, the junior wrestlers of Paradise still have the opportunity to train and compete. As John relates, “our teams are built from numbers, not money. Our people work hard, take care of one another, and support our athletes. I am proud to call Paradise home. The structures may be gone, but the people who make up the community are still here. We have taught our children right and wrong, and how to survive in this world. Our battle has just begun. Together we are strong.”
On a fateful day earlier this Thanksgiving month, John was thankfully working close to town when he spotted the fast-advancing fire. John acknowledges the “incredibly brave firemen and policemen who saved thousands of lives while jeopardizing their own. They took action designed only to save others without concern for their own circumstances.” With just enough time to round up dogs and family, but no time for any belongings, the Bunch family is amongst those who will carry on the proud tradition of success in this small community. Pride will lead the survival of what’s best in Paradise.
Among the possessions lost in the all-claiming fire was the championship belt that Peyton earned in 2018. In a special ceremony at the February 2019 Rumble in Reno, RMN Events will award her a replacement belt. Like her community, Peyton Bunch will build upon previous success with pride as well as a renewed belief in herself. Paradise and Peyton are champion rebuilders.
COACH JOHN BUNCH WITH PEYTON (L) & JAYDEN (R)
PEYTON WITH HER RUMBLE IN RENO BELT 2018
BUNCH FAMILY HOME - PARADISE, CA - BEFORE NOV. 8 CAMP FIRE
BUNCH FAMILY HOME - PARADISE, CA - AFTER NOV. 8 CAMP FIRE
PARADISE CA ELEMENTARY SCHOOL - BEFORE NOV. 2018 FIRE
PARADISE CA ELEMENTARY SCHOOL - AFTER NOV. 2018 FIRE
PEYTON WINNING HER RENO CHAMPIONSHIP IN 2018
BUNCH FAMILY - LANA, PEYTON, JAYDEN, JOHN - PARADISE, CA