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February 6, 2003

Wrestler wins, minus crowd roars

From: Howard County Times, MD - 06 Feb 2003

by andrew conrad

Andrew Weidig has never heard the sound of the referee's hand slapping the mat after he's scored a pin, and he's never heard the crowd's applause as his arm was raised in victory. Instead, his wrestling world is filled with all motion and a vacuum of noise. The Ellicott City resident is deaf.

While the senior cannot hear on the mat as he racks up the victories at the Maryland School for the Deaf, he can sense what it's like in his regular life. At the age of nine, Weidig received a cochlear implant at the behest of his parents.

The procedure involves surgically threading an electrode array into the cochlea, the spiral-shaped part of the inner ear that contains nerve endings that transmits impulses to the hearing center of the brain. The implant allows the user to perceive sound, but not process it the same way others do.

"So, basically I know what it feels like to be hearing," Weidig said.

Weidig, who has a younger brother who is also deaf, removes the external function of the implant before his matches because of the physical nature of the sport.

It's a sport he has become dominant in over the last few years, amassing a four-year high school record of 87-11, including one season at River Hill. He's scored 26 wins so far this season.

"I also want to win 100 matches in my high school career," Weidig says.

Weidig's career on the mat began in the sixth grade, and he was determined to not let anything hold him back.

"I just want be equal to other people rather than letting them walk all over me," he says. "I used to fight with my older brother and I grew stronger. A boy, one year older than me, invited me to wrestling practice."

The seven years of hard work have paid off. The senior recently won the 145-pound championship in the Eastern Schools for the Deaf Athletic Association tournament for the second straight year.

"There's nothing hard about being deaf in wrestling. It's probably a lot easier to concentrate on the match instead of the fans," he said.

However, one area where being deaf makes wrestling difficult is communication with the coach. Wrestlers constantly have advice shouted to them by coaches, even if their head is behind their own knee.

"When I was younger, I didn't know what to do in a match, so I kept looking at my coach and not paying attention to my opponent," Weidig said.

Weidig communicates with his coaches using sign language, eye contact and pats. At other times, messages can be conveyed with actions.

At a recent practice, a wrestler came in late and handed Coach Jeff White a note. White read it, crumpled it up, threw it to the ground, and gestured for the tardy wrestler to fall in, all without a single word or sign.

White, a Deaf Olympic gold medalist in 1985, also communicates with his wrestlers during practice by flashing the wrestling room lights on and off, clapping and, if a wrestler is slacking, with high pitched shrieks.

"I have been teaching Andrew how to wrestle since he was in middle school. He is one of my best wrestlers," White said.

"I hope Andrew will wrestle for the 2005 USA Deaf Wrestling team in Australia, where I may coach again," said White, who coached the 2001 version of the team in Rome.

Under White's watch, the Maryland School for the Deaf has won six consecutive National Deaf Prep Championships. Wrestling International Newsmagazine once called the program: "The Deaf Wrestling Factory."

As a freshman and sophomore, Weidig attended River Hill and competed on the JV wrestling team his sophomore year.

He was beat out for a varsity spot by 2002 county champion Ryan Shevland, but was an undefeated JV county champion at 125 pounds with 19 wins, 13 coming by pin.

"He was real focused," River Hill coach Earl Lauer remembers. "Wrestling gave him an outlet to be as normal as anyone else.

"Wrestling allows those with some physical disabilities to participate on, not an equal level, but almost an equal level," Lauer added.

Weidig still keeps in touch with Shevland; the two work together at Pizza Hut in Ellicott City.

Shevland says that Weidig's older brother, who also works at the Pizza Hut, acts as an interpreter, allowing him to ask Weidig how his wrestling season is going.

Shevland remembers his match with Weidig for the varsity spot as being very close.

"I think I beat him by a point," Shevland said. "He's pretty strong. He got me in a headlock a couple of times."

Weidig recently used that same move to win a title at the Grace Brethren Tournament in Washington, D.C.

"In the third period, [Grace Brethren's] Paul Bressler was on top of me, leading 10 to 7. He knew how good at bottom (a defensive position) I was and let me go. His big mistake was that he underestimated my best skill which I haven't used for almost two years ... the headlock.

"It was 10-10 with fifteen seconds left, brawn against brawn, brain against brain, and experience against experience. I stayed there until time ran out. I had earned three points for the near-fall. The Grace Brethren team was disappointed but everybody else cheered hard."

After the win, White carried his worn out star from the scorer's table to cap off the victory.

Weidig will look to bring more pride to the school when he competes in the Maryland Private School State Tournament on Feb. 14.

He plans to attend Gallaudet University, the university for the deaf in Washington, and wrestle under coach Marty Willigan, a two-time All American at Hofstra who competed against the legendary Dan Gable in the NCAA championship match in 1969.

Weidig's interests are diverse, as he is also a champion distance runner. He wants to be a computer programmer or an actor after college. He will also play the starring role of Quasimodo in an upcoming school production of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

While Lauer is happy to see Weidig doing so well at the Maryland School for the Deaf, he does regret one thing about his parting.

"Certainly I didn't want to lose a kid of his caliber," Lauer said.

E-mail Andrew Conrad at aconrad@patuxent. com.

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