By Lukas Eggen
Ely Times Staff Writer
High school wrestling is a vocal sport. During any given match, coaches can be heard shouting instructions to their wrestler and the crowd urging wrestlers on to dig a little deeper.
But White Pine High sophomore Joe Pauley doesn’t hear any of it. He doesn’t hear coach Mike Gamberg shouting toward him. He doesn’t hear the crowd cheering him on. That’s because Joe is deaf.
Finding a passion
Growing up as one of six children, Pauley lived what his father, Tim, called a “sheltered” life. But as he grew older, his family looked for a sport that would help expose Pauley to different things, whether it be competition or to help build character. Pauley chose wrestling.
“I first started wrestling because I had friends who did it,” Pauley said. “I didn’t win much, but I liked trying and did it mostly to hang out with friends.”
Through his more than six years of training, Pauley worked to learn the building blocks of wrestling and to improve his technique with the help of his coaches and parents.
“Through the years, we’ve taught Joe this and that,” Tim said. “He watches videos on TV of wresting matches and that’s how he learns.”
Since joining wrestling, his teammates have been supportive and made him one of the guys, Tim said, with some wrestlers even learning basic signs to better communicate with him.
While most wrestlers rely on instructions shouted from coaches during their matches, Joe had to rely on instincts and those rare moments he can look toward his corner for directions.
“We were a little discouraged in the beginning because it was hard to get the concepts through,” Tim said. “It’s not like saying go do this or that. If you notice in a wresting match, the coaches are screaming at the kids and the kids are doing what the coaches are saying. For Joe, he can maybe look at us, but that doesn’t happen very often. He had to learn everything he had to do.”
For those moments that Joe can look over to his coaches and father, And in those moments, they must be ready to convey what they want Joe to do on the mat.
“It’s kind of tough,” Tim said. “ASL doesn’t have signs for certain equipment and they don’t have signs for wrestling. We almost have to mimic what we want him to do to trigger it in his mind.”
While not being able to communicate, as much during matches can be difficult, Joe is excelling in a big way.
Building for the future
Joe entered the Ely Lions Invitational last weekend under difficult enough circumstances. A non-wrestling accident left Pauley with a leg injury that sidelined him the entire 2012-13 season. Losing an entire season is difficult, perhaps even more so with a sport predicated on training. It had Joe’s parents a little worried.
“This year we were a little bit apprehensive,” Tim Pauley said. “I pulled coach aside and asked if he was ready for this year. He said you’d be surprised.”
And surprised he did. Joe finished second in the 113-pound division despite wrestling in his first high school matches of his career.
“I think I wrestled well and the team wrestled well,” Joe said. “There were many new things that weren’t the same when I wrestled in middle school.”
Despite missing an entire season, Pauley has his eyes set on one thing: Making State and taking one of the top two positions. For wrestling coach Mike Gamberg, that goal is well within his reach, he said.
“The sky’s the limit for this kid if we can get him to be a little more technical,” Gamberg said. “He did a fantastic job. He’s got no disability on the mat. He probably rather not hear us yelling at him.”
After years of working to improve, Joe is seeing the results in a big way.
“Now after many years of wrestling, we’re seeing the lights turn on and that’s exciting for us,” Tim said. “…It’s finally clicking.”
While Joe is finding success on the mat, it’s also teaching him important lessons off the mat as well, and those may be even more important Tim said.
“I was so proud of him, he walked by the boy that took first and he stopped and gave him a thumbs up sign,” Tim said. “I thought that was cool because that was sportsmanship.”
And as Joe learns life lessons as well as improving as a wrestler, Tim said wrestling can be an outlet to bigger and better things after high school.
“If he keeps going, I feel he will be ready by the time he graduates for scholarships for any school around here,” Tim said. “That’s what I need for Joe, to be well-educated and he needs to move on into the world and make a difference.”
As Joe looks to continue his march toward his ultimate goal this season, Tim said he and the rest of the team have already made this season special.
“We’re proud of him and of this team,” Tim said. “My hat is off to coach Gamberg and every one of those boys…this is a really good team.”