John Rhodes knew his co-Half Moon Bay High School wrestling coach and friend Lee Allen was highly regarded within the national wrestling community.
He didn’t know how big Allen was until the two went to a national tournament where Rhodes stood in line to get an autograph from 1972 Olympic champion Dan Gable. Gable signed the autograph for Rhodes, looked up, and said hello to his friend Allen.
“It took me awhile to scoop my jaw off the floor,” Rhodes said.
Allen, a two-time Olympian, was well-known throughout the country’s tight-knit wrestling community. The El Granada resident died Monday due to congestive heart failure. He was 77.
He won four high school titles in Oregon, claimed a title at the University of Oregon, earned five national titles and participated in the Olympics twice, in 1956 in the freestyle and 1960 in the Greco-Roman.
He coached U.S. teams in five international meets and was supposed to be the coach of the 1980 Olympic team until the U.S.-led boycott of the games. He said in a 2008 interview with the Review that many of those wrestlers are now coaching.
He coached the sport at Skyline College for more than 30 years. After settling in El Granada, Allen showed up at high school tournaments, recruiting athletes for the Trojans.
That’s how Tom Baker, the current Half Moon Bay coach, ended up at Skyline.
“My plans for college were to go to Shasta College to study fire science,” Baker said. “He talked me into going out for wrestling.”
“I accomplished my goals there,” Baker said. “I had a winning record and I learned how to wrestle at a high level. He was a huge part of my life
“He would do anything to help you out,” Baker said. “He did a lot of things behind the scenes.”
He was part of the Half Moon Bay coaching staff when his daughters, first Sara then Katherine, attended high school. He was a hands-on teacher.
“He could throw us around,” said Chris Rey, a 2006 graduate of Half Moon Bay. “He was my coach in my nine years of wrestling.”
Allen was appointed head coach of the women’s program at Menlo College in 2001 and continued to coach his daughters there.
Allen is listed in five halls of fame and was named the 2009 Women’s College Wrestling Association Coach of the Year.
Allen is survived by his wife, Joan, and two daughters.
A memorial will take place at 10 a.m., Saturday at the Community United Methodist Church in Half Moon Bay. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Olympians for Olympians Relief Fund at www.oorf.org.