Marty Willigan has never turned down a wrestling challenge.
For example, the former two-time wrestling all-America at Hofstra took on and lost to Olympic champion Dan Gable in the 1969 NCAA finals.
This year, Willigan faces a new challenge, serving as head wrestling coach for both Model School and Gallaudet College. He holds the daily practices at the high school from 3 to 5 p.m., followed by the college workout at a different location from 4:30 to 6:30.
Willigan revived the Gallaudet program in 1982 after the school had dropped the sport a year earlier. The program was given a boost this fall with the addition of Charles Hammack, the 138-pound Illinois Class A state champion last year (Illinois School for the Deaf) and Toselli Silvestri, who won the 167-pound National Prep School title as a Model senior last year.
Willigan, however, will have to be somewhat patient in rebuilding. One complication this season is that Silvestri will not wrestle in order to concentrate on his studies.
"I just want to prove that deaf people can wrestle," Silvestri said in sign language through an interpreter. "I want to prove that being deaf is no handicap."
Silvestri did that last season. He was 34-0 in matches and defeated 185-pound National Prep champ Mike Knaly of Carroll, 6-0, and two-time Maryland state champ Norman Brown of Bowie, 14-7.
Silvestri's victory over Brown earned him a spot on a Potomac Valley all-star team that competed against a Central Pennsylvania squad in a preliminary to a USA-USSR meet in Harrisburg, Pa., last April.
At that meet, Silvestri and a couple of Model wrestlers were introduced to Gable, the U.S. Olympic team coach, by Willigan. Through an interpreter, Gable told the story of his sister's murder in his home by a neighbor when he was a teen-ager. He said he took that horrible experience and channeled it into something positive -- a high school and college record of 180-1, an Olympic gold medal, and a coaching record of 156-6-2 at Iowa including the last eight NCAA championships.
Silvestri, who communicates in American Sign Language, must wait until next year before he can wrestle at Gallaudet. He reads at a fifth-grade level and must go through a rigorous one-year academic program to improve his English skills.
"American Sign Language and English are very different," said Willigan, who is partly deaf. "For completely deaf students like Toselli, learning English can be extremely frustrating."
Willigan is also frustrated that Silvestri won't be wrestling for him this season. "Toselli's learning problems are compounded by some bad study habits," he said. Hammack, however, will compete, as will Silvestri's brother Todd, who placed third in the National Prep tournament for Model in 1983.
"While coaching at Model, I discovered that there are many outstanding deaf wrestlers in the country," Willigan said. "Hopefully, we can interest some of them in Gallaudet. I'm confident the program can survive this time."