EMERSON — Robbie Maggiulli was walking out of a wrestling tournament when his father asked him what kind of move he had used.
“I said ‘cement mixer,’ ” said Maggiulli. “We put two and two together, because he heard it on the mat and I knew what a cement mixer was, but I didn’t know what the actual move was [called].”
Maggiulli’s father has an advantage Robbie doesn’t. Without his hearing aids, Robbie pretty much is deaf. He doesn’t hear much on the mat, other than maybe his opponent’s grunts. It’s called bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and because of it, Robbie wears hearing aids almost everywhere.
He has not let it stop him. Heading into district competition this weekend, Robbie is 29-2 this season and ranked second in The Record Honor Roll at 220 pounds.
“There are so many things out there that I have no idea how to do,” said Robbie, “but there are things I know how to do and I try them as hard as I can.”
Being a wrestler who can’t hear obviously has some disadvantages. During a match, wrestling coaches always are shouting instructions on how to either escape your opponent or magnify your advantage, depending on the situation, but unless Robbie already knows what to do, such commands are useless.
“When he was young, we couldn’t help him on the mat,” said Emerson/Park Ridge coach Stan Woods. “Sometimes, young guys don’t know what they’re doing, so you can yell to them and they can hear and react, but with him, if he didn’t know it, he couldn’t do it.”
Of course, that doesn’t stop Woods from trying anyway.
“All the time,” said Woods with a smile. “We know half the time he’s never going to hear us, but it’s instinct, when you see something, you yell.”
Robbie is 16 and very comfortable talking about his hearing loss. His parents discovered it about the time he was 3 years old and they were having trouble understanding him.
“I wasn’t really speaking English per se,” said Robbie, “I was babbling a little bit.”
Growing up, Robbie wasn’t one to stay at home. He played lots of sports. He was into football for a while, but had to give that up when he got to high school. Now he runs cross-country in the fall and is a miler on the Emerson track team in the spring.
After two relatively successful seasons on the mat, Robbie felt as if he had to take steps to improve. He started getting private lessons, which would help him one-on-one.
“I realized freshman year I wasn’t the wrestler I can be,” said Robbie. “I needed to learn wrestling moves. I always felt through rec, I never really learned how to do moves, because I could never hear them. I couldn’t connect the name with the actual move. I was struggling and over the summer, I worked at it and got better.”
Woods and the EPR coaches make sure to tell the officials about Robbie’s hearing loss, and the opposing coach. A lot of times the officials have to tap Robbie to let him know the period is over.
“As of this year, I don’t think it’s been a problem at all for him,” said Woods. “The only problem he probably has is he doesn’t have to listen to us.”
In school, Robbie likes to sit in the corner of the classroom so he can hear and see the teacher, and also what the other students are saying. He is in the National Honor Society and likes math and science.
What might be the best part of Robbie’s story is that he still is learning. That cement mixer story with his father is from freshman year. He just now is coming into his own as a wrestler.
Like every other high school wrestler in the state right now, Robbie has his eyes set on Atlantic City. He twice has made it to the region tournament, but never to the state tournament.
“That’s the one we all care about,” said Robbie. “I am just going to do what my coach tells me and go out there with the fire that no one else has and work my hardest. That’s all that matters.”