Derry freshman motivates teammates at WPIAL wrestling championships
Before Derry freshman Dom DeLuca steps on the mat, he gets a pep talk from classmate Jason Baker.
See, it’s Baker’s way to stay connected to wrestling. He has missed only one match all season, and he was at the WPIAL Class AA championships Friday at South Fayette to root on his teammates.
Baker was a 2014 state champion in Junior Olympics, but after a 2015 season in which he didn’t place, an eye doctor discovered Baker had a cancerous tumor the size of a small pear on the back of his brain.
He had emergency surgery May 15.
“I told my dad (Dennis) that I’m not going to die from this,” Baker said. “But that’s before I found out how serious it was.”
Baker recently finished chemo treatments, and he hopes to be back on the mat in May.
“I still can’t believe it happened to me,” Baker said.
Baker said he knew there was something wrong when he would get dizzy and couldn’t walk straight.
That’s when he decided to go get checked.
“He wasn’t himself,” Derry coach Mike Weinell said. “There were times he’d fly around, and then other times there was nothing.”
Weinell said he already has seen a difference.
“He’d be on the mat now if he was allowed,” Weinell said. “I don’t want to see him on the mat until September.
“He’s an inspiration to his teammates. When things are going bad, the wrestlers can look at him and know things could be worse.”
Derry advanced five into Saturday’s semifinals, which get underway at 11:30 a.m. They are Shawn Broadway (113 pounds), Stone Kepple (132), Micky Phillippi (138), DeLuca (170) and Noah Wiencek (220). Phillippi is looking to become the 26th wrestler to win four WPIAL titles.
DeLuca, who defeated Burgettstown’s Tyler Nicholson, 3-0, draws inspiration from Baker.
“Jason has come a long way,” DeLuca said. “He’s inspired all of us. Wrestling is his passion. I’m looking forward to the day he’s back on the mat.”
Kepple also won 3-0, defeating Indiana’s Davis McElravy. He said seeing Baker make all the matches is amazing.
“It’s definitely an inspiration to see him at the matches,” Kepple said. “He’s gone through a lot. He’ll be a beast on the mat next year, he’s that good. He’ll do what it takes to get back.”
Baker said he has a countdown on his phone for the day he’s allowed to begin practice.
“My goal is to come back here at wrestling in the Class AA championships,” Baker said.
South Fayette advanced six wrestlers to the semifinals, including Mike Carr at 145. Burrell and Freedom advanced five each.
Evan Myers is one of three Southmoreland wrestlers to advance. The other two are undefeated: Tyler Griffiths (30-0) at 120 and heavyweight Jake Beistel (27-0).
Myers defeated Burrell’s Dylan Jeffrey, 6-2, in a minor upset at 138. Jeffrey was the Section 3 champion.
“I expected to win,” Myers said. “It took me awhile to figure out how to attack him.”