Robert Paul shaped many lives during his 15-year career

Kyle Bateman has to grin at the image he holds in his hand. The former Sandy wrestler stares down at the aging, frayed photograph of a five-year-old version of himself at a wrestling tournament and there, standing slightly out-of-focus in the background, is Robert Paul.

Paul, longtime Sandy wrestling coach and ambassador for the sport, died at the age of 49 on Friday, Dec. 13, after sparring with melanoma for 20 months. Right up until his last days, he was in the background for countless wrestlers like Bateman. To so many young men who came and went through the program, Paul was more than just a coach.

“I’ve known him my whole life,” Bateman said. “He has always been there for me. He was like a second dad.”

Aided by Paul’s coaching, Bateman reached the pinnacle of high-school wrestling when he won a state championship in his weight class last season. Under Paul, Sandy went from being a league bottom-dweller to a powerhouse.

He led the Pioneers to the last three district championships and earned district coach of the year honors in his last five seasons.

Bateman, now a member of the Clackamas Community College wrestling team, said Paul tried to make him a better wrestler every day. What Bateman will remember more was Paul’s desire to make him a better person. Building men, and not just athletes, was Paul’s primary focus.

“He gave so many hours to the kids and the community. A 12-hour day for him wasn’t unusual,” recalled Loren Bateman, who grew up with Paul and later coached with him. “When we would get the boys ready for matches, Robert’s real intention was to get them ready for life. For him, it was all about the kids. He was just an incredibly selfless person, and he did things the right way.”

The sleepless hours Paul spent in stuffy wrestling rooms and high school gyms, coupled with his ethical approach, demanded admiration from those in the high-school wrestling community. During his two-stint, 15-year coaching career, Paul earned a reputation as a person who was a true asset to the sport.

Some opposing teams might not have liked Paul on the mat when they were getting creamed by the Pioneers. Off the mat, he had everyone’s respect.

Last season, Sandy traveled to take on Liberty in a meet destined to determine the conference champion. The two schools were rivals, both trying to dominate each other on the mat, but because of who Paul was as a coach, Sandy and Liberty pushed away the anger and animosity they held. During the pre-match introductions, every Liberty wrestler presented a custom-made shirt to his Sandy counterpart. The back of each shirt donned the words “We support Coach Paul.”

Paul’s hyper-focused drive to make the youths of Sandy better sometimes overshadowed the rest of his personality, at least from the outside. Behind closed doors, his sense of humor came out.

“One day at practice, me and Tyler White decided we were going to sneak up behind him and take him down,” Kyle Bateman said. “With both of us trying as hard as we could, we couldn’t do it, and we didn’t come close. He just said something like, ‘What, is that all you got?’”

As a coach, Paul loved his wrestlers like sons and he was genuinely invested in them.

Even in his final weeks as his health declined, he still wanted to be involved. Paul ignored his pain and discomfort to attend Sandy’s first practice of the season in November.

“He was clearly hurting, but he still came in,” Loren Bateman said. “It wore him out, and it hurt, but he loved it.”

Paul’s contributions of time and commitment to Sandy High School and the community can’t be measured, and they pale in comparison to the devotion he gave to his own family. Paul raised four children with Patricia, his wife of 28 years. His oldest son, Ryan, died in 1998. His surviving children, Jamie, Natalie and Aaron remember their dad as being their greatest coach.

“He was always talking about wrestling, and he was a great coach, but he was that way in everything he did,” said Jamie, his oldest daughter. “He was always looking to help everyone. He was just a great man all around, a great man to have as a father.”

Jamie said Paul always made time for family, even though he gave so much to his wrestlers. When she took over as the school’s swimming coach last year, her father was there to coach her through it.

“If there was ever a situation where I didn’t know what to do, I would always go to him with questions,” Jamie said. “He was really insightful. He would really think about it before answering, and we would end up talking for hours.”

At the pool, Jamie will strive to be the type of coach her father was on the mat. Within the Sandy wrestling program, Paul’s best friends, Loren Bateman and Larry Topliff, will work to maintain the success and proud tradition established by Paul.

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