It’s about 7:45 p.m. on Thursday at the Bradford Area High School gymnasium. The lights are dim as the announcer calls Jacob Meister to the mat to take on his teammate Dillon Keane in a match that would make Meister’s dream of wrestling finally come true.
Meister, a 17-year-old junior at Bradford High, has cerebral palsy (non-verbal) and autism. However, despite some physical limitations, the Bradford Owls wrestling team embraced Meister and made him one of their own. On Thursday, at the end of the wrestling match, there was one last match that would be the grand finale of the event –– Meister versus Keane. As Meister pinned Keane for the win, the gymnasium erupted into applause, a standing ovation and even a few tears.
“It was brought up a while ago in a conversation between me and my mom, and I was immediately very excited to make it happen,” said Keane, explaining how the idea originated. “He seemed excited and definitely showed interest when he got to wrestle around with some of the guys on the team a few weeks back.”
Meister’s mother, Mary Jo Corignani, said to see her son wrestle was unforgettable.
“Watching Jake on the mat was a dream for me as well,” she said. “At the age of three, we were told that he'd never walk. To see him on the mat and to hear his name being cheered brought me to tears –– happy tears.”
Although wrestling is a very competitive sport, Thursday’s match showed that there is more to wrestling than winning or losing.
“That match was so much more than just watching a child with disabilities. It was about a team, a team filled with heart. I will be forever grateful for the way they've embraced my son,” she explained. “Disability has never defined Jake. And, if anything, he's proved different doesn't mean less. He not only looks up to Dillon, Derek (Sunafrank) and the rest of the kids, he considers them friends.”
Keane said he was happy to help make Meister’s dream a reality.
“I want people to know whenever they are given an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life, no matter what the situation, take it,” Keane explained. “Even the smallest deed can make the biggest difference in someone’s life.”
As a member of the team, Meister practices and travels with the wrestling squad to cheer on his friends.
Corignani said, “Jake’s eyes light up when there's a match. He's beyond excited to sit with those kids. Win or lose, it's a family.”
Keane added that Meister is an inspiration to him and the entire team, and said, “He just gives us all hope and shows us that with the right people surrounding you, anything is possible.”