AP National Writer
Let’s forget, for a moment, Blake Griffin doing his best impression of Muhammad Ali.
Put aside, for the time being, what sort of disguise Johnny Manziel will come up with for his next night on the town.
Instead, let’s give props to Deven Schuko, a high school wrestler you’ve probably never heard of but should get to know.
When Schuko let an opponent with Down syndrome pin him during a match, it showed a side of sports that too often gets overlooked amid all the foolishness.
“Just a simple act of kindness” is how Deven describes it.
Here’s hoping it spreads.
Maybe the next athlete who’s getting ready to act the fool, or cut a few corners in the pursuit of victory, or belittle someone who doesn’t look or act like they do, will ask themselves: What would Deven do?
“He’s a class act,” Norton wrestling coach Pat Coleman told WCVB-TV in Boston. “Deven just proved there that it’s never wrong to do the right thing.”
Schuko is a senior at Norton High School, a Massachusetts wrestling powerhouse about midway between Boston and Providence. Two years ago, the Lancers won the state title in their classification. This season, they’ve got another strong team led by Deven, a 145-pounder with only one loss out of 29 matches.
Well, actually, two out of 30.
Last weekend, during a meet that included Norton and three other schools, Schuko didn’t have anyone to wrestle in his weight class when the Lancers faced their final opponent of the day. The coach of Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High wondered if anyone would be willing to face Andrew Howland, a wrestler on his team with special needs.
Deven jumped at the chance.
“He wanted a match, so I gave him one,” Schuko says, the smile coming through even over the phone as he spoke Friday to The Associated Press while taking a teacher-sanctioned break from class. “He whipped my butt.”
Fortunately for the rest of us, the match was captured on video by a parent.
The two shook hands at the center of the mat, the whistle blew, and Andy quickly grabbed the back of Deven’s head with his right hand. They tussled a bit before Schuko dropped to one knee, Andy wrapping his left arm around his opponent’s neck. Andy locked his other arm under Deven’s armpit and they tumbled over together, Andy on top — a classic wrestling move.
The referee dove in, checked to see if the shoulder blades were down, and slapped the mat to signal the pin.
It was all over in about 10 seconds.
The memories figure to last a lifetime.
“He was just happy, very happy,” Schuko recalls. “I shook his hand, and he was just laughing. The referee shook his hand, and he was just laughing. As he was walking off the mat … our coach did a little flexing motion at him. Andy flexed back.”
Once the meet was over, Deven enjoyed the rest of the weekend. He didn’t figure anyone would make much of his match against Andy.
When the video was posted to Facebook, however, it was quickly shared more than 5,000 times. Several local television stations picked up on this remarkable act of sportsmanship.
“It was, like, incredible,” Schuko says. “It blew up. I appreciate it so much. I can’t believe it. I’m awe-struck. It was just a simple act of kindness, something that’s so simple. But I hope Andy will remember it forever.”
Deven has won over 100 matches in his high school career, and he’s the top-ranked wrestler in his weight division this season.
Both he and his team are hoping to win state titles.
“That’s the goal,” Schuko says. “I think we have a pretty good chance.”
But he’ll likely be defined by one of the rare matches he lost.
“I really didn’t mind at all,” Deven says. “I just went out there, and it was Andy.”
A simple act of kindness?
But let’s hope it grows into much, much more.
The video can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/anthony.pucino.9/videos/1686983808245847/?pnref=story