By Ray Stern
By New Times
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By Stephen Lemons
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Bobby told roommate Jeff Theiler that rival gang members in Portland once had shot out the rear window of his mother's car when Bobby was at the wheel. Roy Pittman says he counseled Bobby in vain not to associate with the gangs. "But he had no choice, really," Pittman says. "That's the way things are up here. Sometimes, I'd go out and get him. At least the gang guys knew he had a ticket out of town with a scholarship and they didn't want to spoil it for him."
Bobby Janisse survived high school in one piece. Actually, he did far more than survive. By his senior year, sportswriters were touting the first-team all-American as perhaps Oregon's greatest high school wrestler ever. He also excelled in the classroom and won a mantel full of academic and service awards. Among them: Jefferson High's award as its top all-around student; the "Young American Medal Award" for community service; and the coveted "Spirit of Portland" award.
The periodical Amateur Wrestling News listed Bobby as one of the nation's top college wrestling prospects. Every major program made its pitch for him, but Bobby's coach Donny McPherson was thrilled that ASU wanted his superstar. "I steered him to Bobby Douglas," McPherson says. "Bobby is a black man and my Bobby always had had black men for coaches."
But, McPherson adds in a painful moment of hindsight, "I don't think I was really listening to him. He was a homebody, and I think he wanted to stay at home."
"I KNEW BOBBY would be an excellent college wrestler," says Bobby Douglas. "He's real lean, real muscular, extremely strong, flexible. I watched him in high school. He had speed, endurance, all the right things."
Douglas is speaking from his cramped third-floor office at Sun Devil Stadium. He has grudgingly consented to speak about Bobby Janisse. This ordeal has been uncharted turf for a man considered by many to be the prototype of a major-college coach: He's a consistent, relentless teacher concerned with winning championships and graduating his wrestlers.
Douglas has built a national powerhouse in his seventeen years at ASU by finding wrestlers with the heart, ability, and maturity to flourish under his abrasive tutelage.
Douglas' single-minded style is his strength and his weakness as a coach. He inspires unbending loyalty from those who make the very difficult cut. But, he admits with a brief grimace, "It's hard for me to put my arm around my guys. I have a real weakness in that I don't get real, real close with people. I don't think I'm too approachable to anyone, especially to a freshman."
Bobby Janisse moved into a dormitory with the other ASU wrestling recruits last August. Douglas told him he would be "redshirting"--sitting out his freshman year, but retaining four years of college eligibility.
"We try not to put pressure on freshmen," Bobby Douglas says. "We want them to get their feet on the ground academically and to work them into our training program. But the redshirts do the same thing everyone else is doing. Bobby seemed to be right on track. He was a little homesick, but almost everyone gets that way."
Junior wrestler Ray Miller remembers his freshman year as "a very fragile situation, really. Coach was the same with Bobby as he was with me. He's very, very tough, but you learn a lot. He'd call us aside once in a while to see if we were having any problems. But he didn't interfere with our social lives."
Making it as a wrestler at ASU takes tremendous dedication and self-discipline. An average day: study hall at 7:30 a.m., then to class all morning. Practice is from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. On Saturdays, the team runs up Squaw Peak at dawn, then returns to ASU to lift weights and wrestle until noon.
Bobby soon became close to the wrestling team's academic adviser Bettie Julkes. "He was a wonderful person, very mannerly, and I loved him," Julkes says. "My twelve-year-old son looks something like Bobby and one of the guys always used to ask me how my `little Janisse' was doing. All I was getting from his teachers and everyone else was serious praise about Bobby. I didn't know the other side of what was going on."
Bobby spent much of his free time with fellow freshmen wrestlers Jeff Theiler and Bobby Young, white kids from Iowa and Montana respectively. He'd hit it off with the pair at wrestling tournaments during high school and they'd resumed their friendships at ASU.
"We could have fun wherever we went, whatever we did," Young says. "We did everything together. Bobby was cool and he was a real friend, always there."
Adds Jeff Theiler, "He was like a typical teenager. He was crazy, but not bad crazy. He was a total entertainer--he'd be crossing the street on a red light and he'd run in front of a car and fall in front of it and lay there. Then he'd stand up and start laughing. It was like he had no cares in the world."
Teens typically consider themselves impervious to physical harm--teenage wrestlers even more so. "I was bulletproof when I was in college," says ASU volunteer coach Keith Walton. "When you're a wrestler, you think you're invincible--you almost have to be--but you're not. I tried to tell Bobby that."