Ben Guerra is always on the move, even into his seventh decade of life.
Take, for instance, his almost-daily 2½-hour workout routine at the Janesville Athletic Club.
“One day I’ll do the chest and arms,” he said. “I never stop to take a break. I’ll do sit-ups or leg lifts so I’m always working different parts of the body.
“The next day, I’ll work on my back and triceps. And then I’ll get on the bike 20 minutes and the treadmill like 15 minutes and then go walk on the track.”
That workout schedule has kept Guerra’s weight at 217 pounds. His peak weight in his 20s was 220.
Guerra has never been a loafer.
Growing up in Salinas, California, Guerra was a standout in both football and wrestling in high school and at both Hartnell Junior College and Sonoma State in California.
After several seasons of playing semi-pro football with the Delavan Red Devils, Guerra “settled down” to playing recreation softball and coaching both football and wrestling.
On Saturday, Guerra will be inducted into the Hartnell Junior College Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the eighth Hall of Fame class.
He already is a member of the Sonoma State Hall of Fame.
Those are honors he never thought about while playing.
His dream back then was to play pro football.
With that goal in mind, Guerra and a buddy took their first trip out of California after graduating from Sonoma State.
They flew to northern Illinois to play for the Lake County Rifles.
“A lot of guys did from all over the country,” Guerra said about the semi-pro league. “You try to make it to the big time by playing semi-pro.”
After several questionable cuts by the Rifles, Guerra and several other players headed up to Delavan to play for the Red Devils.
He played in the rough-and-tumble league as a defensive lineman until he was 36.
‘They’d call me grandpa’
“It got hard,” Guerra says. “It got to I had a game this week, and my body was still sore from last week.
“They’d call me grandpa,” he said of his—ahem—understanding teammates.
When his son, Ben Jr. (Bennie) was born, Ben concentrated on wrestling. He helped develop Bennie into a renowned youth wrestler. As Bennie got into high school at Parker, his father was the only person in the wrestling room that could compete with him.
And Ben Sr. always had the upper hand as he was still wrestling in tournaments that had post-high school qualifiers.
“I was 46, 47,” he said. “(Competitors) were 19, 20. Oh, yeah.
“The moves were slow, but I always made it, y’know?”
And he was able to fend off all comers in the Parker High wrestling room until a few accomplished the once unthinkable feat—getting Ben Guerra off his feet.
Of all the national and state high school titles Bennie Jr. accumulated, his most lasting memory is the afternoon that he finally got mentor—Ben Sr.—down on the mat.
According to Ben Sr., Bennie was only one of three high school wrestlers to ever get him down—and this when he was approaching 50.
“It had to happen sooner or later,” Ben reflects.
He then goes into his imitation of the kids that got—for at least a moment—the best of him.
“Yeah, I got Mr. Guerra down,” he mimics, pumping his arms above his head.
“I should have never...,” Ben growls for a moment, before snapping back to a reflective mood. “That’s the way it goes. You can’t win forever.”
Ben Sr.’s most lasting memory came when he was at Sonoma State. There was a guy named Mike Johnson who was at Humboldt State. He could never beat Johnson.
That was until the final dual meet of the 1966-67 season. An assistant came up to Guerra and said, “I know you can do it, Bennie. I know you can do it.”
And Guerra did. He earned the No. 1 ranking for the conference tournament.
It came down to Guerra and Johnson in the championship match.
“I pinned him,” Guerra said, the pride still in his voice. “I went to nationals.”
Guerra was the first Sonoma State wrestler to win a conference title.
Guerra wrestled Jim Plunkett in high school. Plunkett won the 1979 Heisman Trophy as the quarterback for Stanford, and played 16 seasons in the NFL, winning two Super Bowls as the starting QB for the Oakland Raiders.
Plunkett beat Guerra in what would be the sectional finals today. They both went to state—which was just one class in California then. Plunkett got beat in his bracket, but Guerra took fourth place in the 191 pound division in the entire state.
“There were more than 100 high schools,” Guerra said. “That’s tough.”
Tough, but understanding is a great description of Guerra. He knew just how far to go with the testosterone-fueled, I-can-beat-the-world upper-weight division high school wrestlers during practices.
“When I wrestled the kids, I didn’t hurt them. Like some of the guys that had just graduated used to come (to practice) and hurt the guys.”
That irritated the elder Guerra.
“I’d say, ‘You don’t want to hurt the guy; you want to help him. You’re going 100 percent. I’d say, ‘Go at me.’
“They’d say, ‘No, Mr. Guerra.’
“OK, then. I coached heavyweight, 198, 187 and they all come up and call me Mr. Guerra. It was respect.”
Guerra earned that.
And he still earns it from anyone that watches him work out at the JAC, or just lead his life.
He has 25,000 miles on his Yamaha motorcycle that he bought new in 2012.
“I enjoy just looking around,” he said of his travels.
In the winter, Guerra and two other buddies go north and snowmobile in the Tomahawk and Rhinelander area.
Ben Guerra is active and still competitive.
Guerra relates the story of his neighbor making sure the mower lines were perfectly straight while cutting his lawn this summer.
Guerra called over his wife of eight years, Renee, to join in on his amusement.
“You’re no different, babe,” Renee said.
She knows him well.