West Virginia Wrestling


by Dr. Bill Welker, National Wrestling Hall of Famer
and Rick Welker

A Parents' Open Letter of Their Son's Courage
by Tracey DeBee

Dr. Welker,

I have seen your name appear both online at www.wvmat.com-a site I frequent quite often and in our USA Wrestling magazines. My husband and I would like to share our youngest son Jacob's story with the wrestling community. I am sure you are familiar with the school both of my sons' wrestling programs branch out of, Oak Glen. My youngest son, Jacob, began wrestling in 2002 at the age of four. He wanted to do the same thing his brother was doing, and that was wrestle. Our boys are nearly two years apart in age, and up until two years ago were always a mere five pounds apart in weight. This of course made them the perfect set of wrestling partners.

For the first two years, this worked out wonderfully for both boys. Ryan was the aggressor and Jacob was a practice dummy learning the defensive part of wrestling. Jacob wrestled his first handful of matches and also became the 4 and under 35 pound WAWA (Western Allegheny Wrestling Association) Champion. Unfortunately, he has the trophy, but his name was never entered into the WAWA History Book as the offical champion. He faired well his second year at age five, too. At age six, Jacob began to complain about severe pain in his left leg and back. He had developed a slight limp shortly after the pain started. With the concern of a possible injury, we took Jacob to see his doctor. After some precautionary x-rays, we were called back to the doctor's office. Jacob had been diagnosed with a degenerative bone disease named Legg-Perthes Disease. This disease caused the top of the left Femor to disintegrate down to the growth plate, which would eventually regenerate to a whole bone again.

Jacob was referred to Shriner's Hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania where they had extensively treated and researched the disease. After his second visit to Shriner's Hospital, he was admitted for treatment. While in the hospital, he endured a constant 72 hours of weighted traction of both legs. Once the traction was completed, he went through physical therapy and was fitted for a hip/back brace. This brace supported the lower back and kept the knees separated by a metal rod to keep both hips in place. Essentially, he looked as if he were mimicking a cowboy with a lil extra twang in his walk. He was to wear the brace for one year and then determine what treatment should be followed. Jacob was determined that this brace and the restrictions would not hold him back in any way. He quickly adapted his busy lifestyle to his new accessory. The brace was not enough to keep Jacob from doing anything he wanted. He learned to ride a bike while wearing it, he ran, played with all of the kids on the playground, and he even ran up and down the bleachers at his brother's wrestling matches.

When he went back to Shriner's Hospital for a six month check up, the nurses and doctor were shocked to see how well he was doing and how well he had adapted. They did routine x-rays and tests to see how the bone was developing. The doctor was surprised to see the vast improvement in which the bone and the muscles had developed in a such a short time. They had nicknamed him "Mr. Amazing". The comment was made that he had the will and determination to work and overcome any handicap that he faced. At that time, the doctor decided to allow Jacob to stop wearing the brace at night, and just wear it during the day to slowly get the hips used to being worked. About a month later Jacob was completely free of wearing the brace.

Now at age seven Jacob was ready to get back on the mat. He practiced at wrestling practice and at home with his brother. He was basically learning the sport all over again. Just as he did at age five, he faired well for the next two years in pee wee wrestling. However, at age nine he had a slight setback with the Perthes Disease forcing him to take a season off. He wasn't too happy, but we didn't want to cause any further injury to his hip by pushing him too much at this early age.

At age ten, Jacob returned to the Oak Glen Jr. Matmen. Now he was faced with building up his technique yet again. He was a little slow coming into the season and a little guarded as well. By the end of the season, he was coming into his own by learning new ways to work around "using the hips". As you are well aware, hip control is a great part of wrestling. Last year he wrestled at age eleven in the 12 & under 75 pound weight class. He was doing very well and placing in most tournaments, and was said to be the most improved wrestler.

Here we are at age twelve, and in the last year of pee wee wrestling. Jacob started the season out wrestling in Smitty's Floors Fall Brawl USA Wrestling Tournament. He became a USA Wrestling member, and he was given the opportunity to meet and attend a mini camp with Cael Sanderson. He placed second in this tournament. Next, was the South Side Beaver Annual Christmas Tournament where he faced some tough out of state competition. He ended up wrestling for "True 2nd" and losing to his opponent by one point. He then wrestled in a league dual match where he won his first match by technical fall. The second match he was to wrestle was forfeited by the opposing team after the first match he wrestled. Throughout the season he had a hard time getting matches unless he wrestled up by ten or more pounds due to his newly acquired reputation. He has wrestled and become a team captain due to his effort. He just finished up his WAWA League season with the annual WAWA Tournament. In this tournament, he would face some familiar names from the past.

He started out as the number one seed in the 12 & under 90 pound weight class. For his first match-number 11 on mat 6, he was paired with the same wrestler he faced in the dual tournament. He won this match by fall in the third period. He advanced to the semi-finals-match 41 on mat 6, where he would face a wrestler he had seen and lost to several times in the past. He set out for the match with a "I gotta win this to place right?". He stepped up to the mat eyeing his opponent, who was waiting for his ankle band. He walked to the center of the mat, shook his opponent's hand, and from there the determination and skills he had been working on for the past eight years took over. His hand was raised in the end with a 14-0 victory. He ran back to us in the stands with a smile, and asking "When do I wrestle again?". While waiting for his next match, the opponent he had just defeated came to him in the stands offering a hand shake and thanking him for a great match. Next up, the championship match. He had just wrestled match number 44 on mat 6, and wouldn't wrestle again until match number 77 on mat 6. This match would be the last one of the day in his bracket. Seed number one versus seed number two. This again would be against a wrestler he had never been able to defeat. Finally, match number 73 was on the mat, and it was time to go warm up and prepare for match number 77. As he watched his opponent begin to stretch and loosen up he looked to be getting nervous. We knew that he remembered the past matches with this boy and how they turned out. He was handed his ankle band and sent to the center of the mat. As we watched from the stands, we too were nervous. The match started out just as they had before with the other wrestler in the lead. In the second period there was a very controversial call made by the ref denying Jacob a takedown. During the third period, the score was 3-4 in favor of his opponent. In the final seconds of the match Jacob refused to quit. They had started out in the neutral position, the only way for Jacob to score was by taking the other wrestler down. With much of the stands surrounding mat 6 cheering him on, his determination took over. With one second remaining he got the takedown. The match ended with our son, Jacob, getting his hand raised.

A few minutes later he came running into the stands with his championship trophy and saying "I did it, I won." His name will now be undisputed in the WAWA History Book as a champion. His determination to overcome all obstacles has brought him all the way to the top. He will be wrestling in a couple more open tournaments, and then this summer he will be attending the World Class Wrestling Camp at Edinboro University with his future Oak Glen Middle School teammates. He has, as his father says, "Peaked when it matters most."

We are very proud of our son for all of his accomplishments. We also believe that the mental toughness and discipline that makes a great wrestler has a large part in how he approaches his everyday life on or off the mat. I have attached a picture of Jacob holding his championship trophy. He looks exhausted in the picture, but to any wrestler this means he gave it 110% while on the mat.

If you can share his story with any other person who needs some inspiration, we would be happy to know it helped another potential wrestler/champion.

Tracey and Ryan DeBee

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