Concern has hold on Bears

Wrestling: Hammond, which is 24-0, is showing its support for former teammate Joey Killo, who is with his National Guard unit in Iraq.

High Schools

February 11, 2005|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Two days before Christmas, the Hammond wrestling team was putting the finishing touches on a down-to-the-wire, dual-meet win over River Hill.

And in defeating the five-time county champion Hawks before a raucous home crowd, the Bears had handed their perennial Howard County rival its first league loss in years.

Meanwhile, halfway around the world in Iraq, adrenaline was running high for a former Hammond wrestler for an entirely different reason:

Days before the Bears' meet with the Hawks in Columbia, former Hammond wrestler Joey Killo was staring at a blown-up desert stronghold, the aftermath of a bombing that destroyed his sleeping quarters.

"Joey is a gunner on a Humvee, and fortunately, they had been out on patrol," said Killo's father, Randy. "But their barracks had been bombed by a rocket-propelled grenade that blew a hole in the wall to the room where Joey had been asleep hours earlier."

Word of the incident, and others, have been reaching the Bears and coach Pedro Barbosa, who this season has developed an idea for honoring Killo:

Hammond wrestlers wear yellow ribbons on the left straps of their wrestling singlets, said 189-pound junior Steve Sessa, "to let Joey know he's still in our hearts even though he's far away."

The Bears made sure the ribbons were in full view in the aftermath of their win over River Hill, posing for a team photo before a scoreboard that read: Hammond 30, River Hill 27.

The photo will be framed and placed in glass and given to Killo upon his return home, expected early next month.

"As a wrestler, it gives me motivation to feel that I'm supporting Joey in some small way. But the ribbon itself means nothing if you don't wrestle with passion," said Sessa, whose older brother, Dom, competed alongside Killo at Hammond from 1998 to 2001. "Joey was a big part of helping me to develop as a wrestler. So I want to make him feel as much a part of what's going on over here as I can."

Hammond team members will have Killo on their collective minds tomorrow, as they take a school-record 24-0 mark into the Class 2A-1A state duals championships at La Plata High of Charles County.

The top-seeded Bears meet Harford Tech at noon, with the winner to face the victor of a semifinal between South Carroll and Stephen Decatur at 6 p.m.

A win would be a vast improvement for Hammond, which was 9-9 last season and features eight wrestlers who never competed before high school.

Hammond could capture its first state crown since 1998, when Killo, then a freshman, helped the Bears sweep not only the state tournament crown, but also Hammond's second state dual-meet title.

"We're always hearing how Joey is one of the guys who helped build up Hammond's program," said 119-pound Ethan Cohen, a state runner-up who, with A.J. Smith (152), is among the Bears' five seniors. "We want to keep the tradition going. We want to show Joey that he's a big reason why we're keeping it alive."

The gesture is an emotional one for Killo, 21, who, as a Hammond senior, won individual county and regional crowns and placed third at states. Killo spoke to The Sun earlier this week through e-mail conversations facilitated by former teammate, Ryan Mackin, an assistant to Barbosa.

"Bombings happen over here every week," Killo said. "So when you're in a situation like this, you need your family and the support of your friends because in the end, that's all you have."

A member of the National Guard, Killo was enrolled and wrestling at Kutztown (Pa.) University last February when his unit was activated. Since then, Joey Killo "has been moved around," said Randy Killo. The younger Killo has been in action from areas such as Fallujah and central Iraq.

"They say 25 percent of the soldiers go to the front lines," Randy Killo said. "At times, Joey's been right in the middle of it."

Around his neck, Killo wears a cross given him by Mackin. Killo's spirits, he said, also are lifted through e-mails from former teammates such as Jimmy Davis and Russell Tebeleff , as well as Dom Sessa, Kevin Chrpaty and Mike Azoulay.

Killo tracks Hammond's progress through the team's wrestling Web site.

"I would love to get back at least to see them wrestle once this year. I hope to be home for the [March 4-5] state tournament, and it looks like there's a 50-50 chance of that happening," Killo said. "I've seen most of those kids wrestle before, and I knew what they were capable of. That Hammond wrestling room is a brotherhood, and you're a part of it for life. Hopefully, I can come home and watch them win a state championship."

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