In Florida School’s School for the Deaf and Blind’s wrestling program’s long history, there has only been one state champion.
In 1992, Jerry Coen defeated Tim Viola from Benjamin of North Palm Beach 6-2 to win the 2A state title in the 160-pound weight class.
The program had an Eastern Regional Deaf title in the early 2000’s. Since then, not much has happened.
“We’ve had a lot of quiet years,” head coach Dayton Newman said. “I’m excited to bring it back to where it used to be. Possibly, ahead of where it used to be.”
Now in his second year, Newman has done his best to stimulate interest in the program from both the Deaf and Blind departments. Thirty-six students tried out this year and 28 stayed.
Newman has a nice mix of upper and underclassmen and has several middle schoolers on the team — who happen to be really talented.
Last year, seventh grader Dino Jeudy won Newman’s first match as a coach. Florida School for the Deaf and Blind lost every bout in their first meet of the year against Raines. Jeudy, who was the last to wrestle, gave the Dragons at least one victory. Newman still can’t believe his first match win as coach came from a seventh grader.
“It makes me happy to see the future is in good hands,” Newman said.
Junior Ajani Zaharia joined the wrestling team in sixth grade and now boasts a team best 6-2 record. He hopes to make it to regionals this year, he said. Zaharia took a long break from wrestling but is excited to be back.
“You can’t give up,” Zaharia said. “You just have to listen to the coach's feedback every single time I go out there, without fail.”
Zaharia endured a lot of losses at the beginning of his career to become the wrestler he is today. As the one of the team’s leaders, he wants to pass down the techniques he has learned over the years to the younger wrestlers. Zaharia is a persistent instructor in the practice room, actively teaching and advising.
Newman has been impressed with how quickly his group picks up new techniques and with their effort. What has really been special and rare, he said, is the connection between the Deaf and Blind students.
Wrestling and cross country are the only two sports in which the Deaf and blind athletes intersect. Blind students’ participation in sports has grown over the years, especially in wrestling.
In past years, there were only about one or two wrestlers, who did not communicate much with their Deaf teammates. Newman has eight blind/visually impaired wrestlers who are trying to learn sign language tactilely to communicate with their Deaf counterparts.
Blind wrestler Brady Simmer said he loves that the Deaf and blind students are unified because they aren't around each other often. They connect through wrestling.
Simmer, who never thought about wrestling, joined the team last year. He, like Zaharia, lost a lot at the start of his career — dampening his interest in the sport.
He finally won his first match against Yulee last year.
“I’ll never forget the elation I felt,” Simmer said. “It was a culmination of a lot of learning, a lot of losses, a lot of getting back up. It really taught me that losses are not losses at all — they’re victories. Every loss is another lesson gained.”
Simmer and the Dragons plan to take all of those lessons with them to Washington D.C. at the Marty Willigan Wrestling Classic on Jan. 20. They will compete against 10 other Deaf and Blind schools for the national title. Newman said the goal is to finish in the top three.
The Dragons’ spirit, camaraderie, talent and belief in themselves can help them reach that goal and, maybe do even more.
“They don’t stop,” Newman said. “They just want to prove you wrong.”
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is a tuition-free state public school and outreach center available to eligible pre-K and K-12 students who are deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired or deafblind. At FSDB, students learn how to do more, be more, and achieve more, fulfilling our vision of preparing them for a lifetime of success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. To inquire about enrollment eligibility or schedule a campus tour, contact Parent Services at 904-827-2212 voice or 904-201-4527 videophone. For more information about FSDB, visit www.fsdbk12.org.