A Firm Hold

Blind and nearly deaf, Loyola High's Nikos Daley has been able to grasp a little glory and much satisfaction as a junior varsity wrestler

February 02, 2003|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Preparing to take on his opponent from visiting McDonogh, Nikos Daley was unaware he was about to face Cory Haugh, the same wrestler who had pinned him in less than a minute during a previous match.

Loyola High School's junior varsity coach, Steve Thompson, escorted Daley to the center of the mat for the neutral, standing start. The referee motioned the McDonogh wrestler forward and instructed both boys to touch palms, leaning closer to Daley so he was sure to understand what was said.

Daley didn't recognize the other boy because he couldn't see him. He heard the words only faintly because he is almost deaf, and his hearing aids won't fit under his wrestling headgear.

Daley, 16, has been blind since birth. His hearing loss is believed to be linked to the same congenital condition. Despite his disabilities, the Loyola sophomore is an upbeat achiever, supported in a drive for independence by his family, friends, teachers and teammates.

"That he has the ability to perform as he does is absolutely amazing," said Dr. Theda Kontis, an otolaryngologist, or ear, nose and throat specialist, who became Daley's physician in 1999. "He talks and acts like there's nothing wrong. He handles his disabilities better than anyone ever could."

Daley was born in Greece and spent his early years in an Athens orphanage. He is one of five children adopted by Peter and Alex Daley, and the youngest in their family of nine children. Older brothers Tom and Paul, both 21, preceded him at Loyola, where they were wrestlers and football and lacrosse players.

Said Peter Daley of his youngest son's wrestling career: "I'm impressed with his progress. It'll take a lot more hard work than other people, but he'll get his share of wins."

On this afternoon against Haugh, Nikos Daley was not yet skilled enough to get a win. The pair was poised in the legal position for bouts involving blind wrestlers, "one palm down, one palm up, touching the other person's [hand] up to your knuckles," as referee Biff Davison described it.

Haugh, having wrestled Daley before, knew the drill. "You can do anything like in another match, except you have to maintain contact," the 125-pound junior said. But this time, Haugh noticed, Daley had improved his defenses.

"Obviously, being blind, it's going to be tough for him," Haugh said. "But he's going to get to wrestle every match the same way, but for a person who isn't blind, it kind of takes you out of your element."

Haugh, 17, pinned Daley in the second period, after gaining a new level of respect.

"I finally got the half-nelson in, but it was tough. This time, he was stronger."

And wiser. "When I lost the first match, I went back, tried to figure out what went wrong," Daley said.

Only afterward did Daley discover that he had been in a rematch. He said he hoped to meet Haugh once more that day to "get my revenge." Instead, he faced 16-year-old Quin Pierson.

In their exhibition bout, Daley was on his back three times as he fought off Pierson, a junior, who got the pin with 23 seconds left in the match.

In contrast to opponents such as Haugh and Pierson, who have wrestled continuously for years, Daley most recently competed in a recreation council in eighth grade. This season, his first as a high school wrestler, he finished with four wins in 12 tries after going 2-2 in yesterday's junior varsity tournament at Archbishop Curley.

Daley skipped competition as a ninth-grader to allow himself to get used to high school. Daley is the only blind student to ever attend Loyola, said Debbie Cotter, computer science chairwoman and director of educational technology, who meets with him daily to oversee his instruction.

Nationally, there are 56,000 blind or visually impaired children, according to the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes. In Maryland, the organization has 17 members who compete in high school sports, said Nicole Jomantas, communications director. Daley's mother said she is not aware of his belonging to the association.

A favorite of teachers

At Loyola, Daley earns mostly A's, mastering academics with the help of a Braille note-taking device and a system that assists his hearing. His teachers wear a type of microphone that transmits signals directly to his hearing aids. Classrooms are marked in Braille so Daley can identify each room.

"But he has learned these things by direction. And he does use a cane," Cotter said. "He's come miles since he was first at Loyola. He was a timid little guy who needed someone else to get from class to class - but he needs no one now."

Cotter, who describes her role as "almost like a mother-child relationship" with Daley, is but one of several professionals who have nurtured him. Another is Bronwyn Welsh, an employee of the Baltimore County schools who teaches Braille.

"I don't really think I've told him," said Welsh, who instructs Daley once a week, "but he's the one who got me doing this."

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