The clock was nearing midnight in Hammond High's gymnasium.
The 500 or so fans who remained at the Hammond Invitational wrestling tournament last month saw undersized Gilman heavyweight Mike Faust demonstrate why he is rated the nation's No. 1 senior heavyweight by Wrestling USA and the top 215-pounder by Amateur Wrestling News.
Faust executed takedown after takedown against 275-pound Nick Meyer of Delaware power St. Mark's, building a 12-2 lead. Unnoticed by many observers was 42-year-old Mike Faust Sr., flanked by his wife, Cheryl, 41, and daughters, Misty, 16, and Minda, 14, as he shouted instructions from his wheelchair.
As always, Mike Faust heard his father's voice, and the son flipped Meyer onto his back for the fourth and final time, this one for the fall just before the end of the second period and the championship.
The eyes of father and son met shortly thereafter, prompting dad to rake an approving fist across his own chest: Mike Faust Jr., once again, showed heart.
That heart has produced a 66-match winning streak and a career record of 129-6, including 76 pins. "My dad's words are always there to push me, whether it's getting me in the weight room when other guys are out partying, or in the classroom," said Mike Faust Jr., who bench-presses nearly 400 pounds.
This season, Faust is 30-0 in his third straight year as Gilman's points scoring leader and team captain. He's looking to earn All-Metro honors for the third straight year.
Faust is also a two-time private schools state champ and a defending National Preps Tournament titlist. He is a two-time winner of the prestigious Delaware Mid-Atlantic Winter Nationals or "Beast of the East" tournament -- considered the nation's most difficult high school invitational.
Faust will be Maryland's representative on a team of U.S. wrestlers against Pennsylvania's All-Stars in the March 25 Dapper Dan Classic at the University of Pittsburgh, and again in the April 1 Dream Team Classic when a nationwide contingent, selected by Wrestling USA, goes against Minnesota's All-Stars in Minneapolis.
"Gilman's had some good wrestlers over the years, but we've never had a heavyweight as good as Mike Faust," Gilman coach John Xanders said. "During his first couple of seasons, Mike worked hard, but his technique had some holes. But his off-season work has made him a much more polished wrestler. This year, he's come back and been just amazing."
Faust said he's motivated by "my dad's personal story, the personal trials he's overcome. It makes all the hard work, and whatever I have to face, that's all trivial.
"Not only am I doing it all for me, but for him as well. My dad was a great athlete who had a lot of potential before his accident."
Carrying the torch
The elder Faust was not unlike his son at Parkville High in 1975: a 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior football and baseball player who could bench-press 365 pounds.
But that was before a friend's afternoon get-together turned into a nightmare in a portion of the Back River in Essex in southeastern Baltimore County.
"It was the very last day of school. I was walking along a pier near the water [Back River] when someone pushed me," said Faust Sr. "Being a pretty good athlete, I tried to make it look good. I tried to turn it into a dive. But the water wasn't that deep."
Faust's head hit bottom. He nearly drowned in two feet or so of water.
"When I couldn't get up, I looked over and saw a hand. I thought it was someone else's, but it was my own," Faust said. "I knew then, I was in trouble."
Faust was paralyzed from the neck down. A quadriplegic.
"Doctors said he'd be paralyzed from the neck down for life, that he'd never be able to push his own wheelchair," said Cheryl Faust, her husband's high school sweetheart. "They said he wouldn't be able to have children. They doubted us almost every step of the way."
But Faust surpassed all therapeutic expectations, and even learned to drive.
"I realized I could have been a college football player, or something like that, but my time was cut short two months short of my 18th birthday," said Mike Faust Sr. "But after the accident, I still tried to take everything I could do to the next level, and eliminate all aspects relating to the chair."
Mike Jr.'s athletic development became an extension of sorts of his father's therapy.
"Mike was a very determined child," said the elder Faust. "I wanted him to experience the things I never could. My goal was to help him along.
"I'd play ball with him, always coached him. I wanted our kids to know I'd never let myself be limited by the chair in any way, shape or form."
Faust Jr. said: "With my father's morals, his way of carrying himself, I feel like I'm carrying the torch for him a little bit. With what he's accomplished, it's a lot easier for me to give 100 percent."
Road to domination