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Hinsdale South wrestlers (from left to right): Ahmad Hasan; Robert Rivera; Ryan Sullivan; and Abby Weinmunson.

Lack of hearing no handicap at Hinsdale S.

By Gary Larsen

“It has taught me that I can do whatever I want to do if I set my mind to it, and that winning is not everything. Even though I lose, I know there’s a reason for me to keep fighting to get what I want.”

Have you ever heard a better description on the value of wrestling? Those words were spoken by Abby Weinmunson. The Hinsdale South junior is one of the latest in a long line of deaf or hard-of-hearing wrestlers for Hornet coach Mike Matozzi.

“First of all she has to deal with the difficulty of participating in a sport dominated by boys,” Matozzi said. “And she’s one of our hard-of-hearing athletes.

“She’s tackling both of those challenges, and she has never backed down. She never once said that she didn’t want to keep wrestling.”

In his 20-year head coaching career, Matozzi estimated he had between 20-25 deaf or hard-of-hearing wrestlers in his program. This season he has four.

Juniors Weinmunson, Robert Rivera, Ahmad Hasan, and freshman Ryan Sullivan gathered together in Matozzi’s office along with an interpreter to explain what attracted them to the sport of wrestling.

Rivera, who competes at 171 pounds, and also participates in track and football at Hinsdale South, jumped at the chance to wrestle.

“My friends all joined, so I came out to support them, join the team, and help beat other schools,” Rivera said. “The only difficult part was that my weight went up and down a lot last year.”

Matozzi saw Rivera had the right make up for the sport.

“Robert is a kid who came in with no wrestling experience, but he’s a tenacious competitor,” Matozzi said. “He’s a tough kid, a hard worker, and he’s always looking to learn more.”

Rivera, Hasan, and Weinmunson were inspired to wrestle by former Hornet wrestler Alex Sonka, another student-athlete in the school’s deaf and hard-of-hearing program. Sonka graduated in 2006.

“Alex finished fourth at sectionals that year. I believe he would have been the first deaf and hard-of-hearing wrestler to qualify downstate,” Matozzi said.

“Alex taught me a lot,” Rivera said.


 Ryan Sullivan and Abby Weinmunson "converse" with coach Mike Matozzi.

A deaf or hard-of-hearing student that goes out for any sport at Hinsdale South gets an school-provided interpreter who helps negotiate the communication barriers between athletes and coaches.

Hinsdale South is the cluster site for all deaf and hard-of-hearing kids from DuPage and Western Cook County. Some students attend South because there aren’t programs available to them within their home district. The Hornets’ wrestling program is particularly well-equipped for such students. Matozzi has known sign language since childhood.

 “My youngest brother is deaf, so I learned how to sign,” he said. “That’s also sort of how I got involved in coaching.”

It was during his days as a high school wrestler at Lyons Township that Matozzi volunteered to help coach at the park district level. It helped his brother Al negotiate the sport as a deaf athlete.

“My brother and a couple of his deaf friends wanted to try wrestling, so I decided to try coaching them,” Matozzi said. “That’s what got me started.”

As in most sports, a referee’s whistle is a vital link of communication. For the deaf and hard-of-hearing, wrestling officials coordinate hand signals or touch in conjunction with their whistles to signal starts and stoppages to hard-of-hearing athletes.

Still, it can get confusing. When Sonka wrestled for Matozzi, one official during a match had the habit of slapping the mat with one hand to try to get Sonka’s attention. Naturally, the universal signal used to indicate a pin caused confusion during the match.

“Sometimes the referee needs to be reminded that you’re deaf, and that he needs to tap you to let you know when he’s making a call,” Hasan said.

Another hurdle involves mat-side instruction from coaches. When a hearing wrestler could listen for verbal cues, a hard-of-hearing wrestler relies on a coach’s viewable signals for instruction during a match.

“That can be the difficult part of it,” Matozzi said. “But when they’re maybe in a bit of a lock-up, or maybe they’re on top or bottom, they can look over and you can sign something real fast.”

Hasan wrestled at 103 last year, and finished second at the York sophomore tournament at the end of the season. Matozzi tried to get Hasan into a varsity match a few times last year, but both times he received forfeit wins.

“He’s a competitor. He was a little behind some of his peers coming into high school. But he’s out there all the time, working his rear end off,” Matozzi said.

Matozzi has had a handful of girls come out for wrestling through the years, but last year Weinmunson wrestled at 130 and became the first female wrestler in program history to stick it out for the entire season.

“I gave her a lot of credit last year,” Matozzi said. “She hasn’t won a match yet, but she was always filling a lineup spot, and she never once backed down.”

Weinmunson said: “When I came to Hinsdale South, I had Robert and Ahmad to explain the sport to me. Once I went through try-outs, I really loved it”

Most of the deaf and hard-of-hearing wrestlers that have come through the Hornets’ program started with no experience in the sport. Sullivan, a projected lower-weight wrestler, fits that bill.

“My cousin taught me some moves, but the sport is pretty new to me,” he said. “But I decided why not try it?”

Matozzi enjoys this exta wrinkle in the South wrestling program.

“Just having them in the program is rewarding to me. It reminds me of why I got into coaching in the first place,” he said.  “For most of them, whatever they accomplish in our sport is what they’ve accomplished since their freshmen year. It feels good to bring a kid along that far, however far that may be.”

Rivera intends to move a little farther along towards success this season.

“My goal is to not get beat, and I know that’s pretty hard. I want to get stronger, get faster with my moves, and pay better attention to what my coach is saying during the match,” Rivera said.

Both Rivera and Weinmunson encourage to all young deaf or hard-of-hearing kids to get on the mat.

“Don’t just sit at home. Do anything – join a sport, get motivated, have fun,” Rivera said. “It can give you more enthusiasm and energy. Get out and try it. You’ll have more friends and you’ll be part of a team that works together.”

Added Weinmunson: “There’s a lot to learn but we all encourage all hard-of-hearing and deaf kids to join. It really is a fun sport once you start to learn.


Today's Schedule: Season Schedule