By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun
Even if you don’t know much about the sport of amateur wrestling, you may have heard that Kern County is known for its championship wrestling teams. Two Kern River Valley residents, one wrestler and one coach, were honored last week for their contributions to the sport by the California Wrestling Hall of Fame at a ceremony on Saturday, May 6, in Fresno.
Mike Bull, a resident of Southlake, began this 35-year countywide tradition of winning when as a South High School senior in Bakersfield he became the first state wrestling champion in Kern County history. He kept winning in college, including national titles, and for this and his support of the sport, he was inducted Saturday into the California Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Thanks to Coach Denny Knight, our local Kern Valley High School (KVHS) has had a championship team for decades. He started the KVHS wrestling program during the 1979-1980 season and became the coach with the most titles in the High Desert Inyo League by the time of his tragic death in 2008 at age 57. Coach Knight was honored at the Hall of Fame ceremony with a posthumous Special Lifetime Service recognition.
Mike Bull, 61, was born and raised in Bakersfield. His accomplishments as an athlete in both wrestling and football at South High School earned him the titles of All-City and Kern County Best Athlete. At the young age of 16 years, he placed sixth in the tryouts for the 1972 Summer Olympics. Bull always had a dream of participating in the Olympics, but a later illness and the U.S. boycott of the 1980 games made him set his sights on other goals.
Bull was a senior in high school in 1973 when he competed in the inaugural California state wrestling championships, winning the 191-pound class and establishing Kern County’s dominance in the sport. That same year, he went on to win the nationals and competed in the Junior World competition. While all of his senior classmates were celebrating graduation at Disneyland, Bull was traveling to the University of Alabama for six weeks of training for the Junior World event. At that competition in Florida, he was named Captain of the U.S. team. Asked how he could keep up with such a demanding schedule during those school years, Bull stated, “I always wanted to stay busy!”
Bull attended Bakersfield College and California State University Bakersfield (CSUB) where he won eight national wrestling championships and was an All-American for three years. He had scholarship offers to join the wrestling teams at the University of Alabama and others, but Bull chose to attend CSUB where his former high school coach, Joe Seay, was coaching.
After graduation, Bull began his career with a geothermal drilling company, met his wife Nancy, and moved to the Kern River Valley in 1988 where he had fished and hunted as a teen. Bull’s sons attended KVHS while Hall of Fame co-honoree Denny Knight was head coach there, so the bounty of Kern County wrestling talent circled back as the new generation began.
Coach Knight won 14 High Desert Inyo League titles during his 28 seasons with KVHS, but like Bull, he was involved in other sports, too. Knight competed in team roping rodeo events and was an avid deer hunter. He will always be fondly remembered by an extended family of students from his special education program at KVHS which he led from 1979 to 2008.
Being remembered with respect by others is an important part of a lifetime legacy for any life well-lived. Mike Bull stated that he was surprised to be chosen as an inductee into the California Wrestling Hall of Fame since his titles were won so long ago. “It’s nice to be remembered,” he said.
Mike Bull earned many titles throughout his early life, but the ones that seem to be most important to him now are the titles of husband, father, and grandfather. The champion and the family man stated, “God has blessed me.”