Taking challenges head-on

WHEELING – John Pyles loves sports.

The freshman at St. Clairsville High School also loves the Red Devils.

And nothing – not even a handicap – was going to hold him back from representing his high school in athletics.

Pyles was born deaf, but that has not slowed him down one bit from being a normal high school student-athlete.

Though he was eliminated in two matches, Pyles was one of the best stories of the 59th annual Ron Mauck OVAC Wrestling Tournament, which wrapped up Saturday night at WesBanco Arena.

“I’m happy with wrestling,” Pyles said through an interpretor.

Pyles has lived in St. Clairsville his entire life, but he attended a special school in Zanesville at the age of 3 until third grade when he began attending St. Clairsville.

And it’s a decision he’s loved from day one.

Fast forwarding to the present, Pyles is in his third year of wrestling. He competed for the Red Devils’ junior high squads and now competes at 113 pounds.

“I saw kids wrestling, and I thought it was something that I could do,” Pyles said.

While some student-athletes deem success based on their records or championships they’ve won, for Pyles, it has nothing to do with any of that.

“I like being part of the team,” Pyles said. “I like the one-on-one part of it where I can do something myself.”

On top of being new to the sport and still young, Pyles has obviously more difficult challenges each time he takes the mat, but that’s not stopped him in the least.

Pyles has his own coach, if you will, in the corner at each match along with either head coach Joel Sansone or assistant coach Gene Monteleone. Michael Barreca, who is also deaf, serves as Pyles’ interpretor during sporting events.

“It’s very hard,” Pyles said. “Communicating with the coaches and officials is really hard.”

Wrestling begins with the official blowing a whistle, but he also makes a hand signal, which is what Pyles reacts to.

Pyles learned quickly just how grueling the sport was as he learned how to wrestle. He learns many other things – through watching and repetition, which is why he credits his teammates for so much for his success.

“I’ve gotten better and I’ve got more confidence,” Pyles said.

On top of those challenges, Pyles, like most wrestlers, faces the usual problem of having to watch his weight.

“Sometimes I can’t eat pizza or junk,” Pyles said. “That’s hard.”

Pyles’ teammates are some of his biggest fans and are always willing to lend a hand in the practice room or support him during matches. He singled out Nick McEndree and Chase Holcomb as a few of his teammates who work with him.

“His teammates are always teaching him holds or showing him how to get out of a hold and they’re always there, at the mat, supporting him,” said Marcia Carpenter, who is Pyles’ school interpretor. “John is always improving and his teammates are always supportive, which is one of the main parts that he likes.”

Competing in the OVAC Tournament was something that Pyles also dreamt about.

“I’d always watched it on TV, but I never thought I’d be there,” Pyles said.

Pyles, like most teenagers, is very adept at text messaging, according to Carpenter.

“He texts me and Mike, and we’ve continued to work on that and his vocabulary,” Carpenter said. “We’re trying to work with him so he’s more independent.”

Along with wrestling, Pyles played football for the Red Devils this past season and he also ran track in junior high.

Pyles receives great support from his teammates and coaches, but after dropping a tough match in the OVAC during Friday’s consolation round, he received a stern talking to from the coaching staff and Barreca.

But, that’s okay with Pyles because he’s part of the team.

Staskey can be reached at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com.