Franklin wrestler Signor’s perseverance pays off
The only time the ring pendant around the neck of Franklin High School’s Justin Signor comes off is when he wrestles.
After winning the 160-pound title at the Baltimore County championships on Feb. 18, he put it back on alongside a gold medal.
The pendant contains some of the ashes of Signor’s father, Joel, who died Feb. 3 after a four-year battle with colon cancer. There was no better tribute to his father, who was 50.
“I think about him a lot. Wish he was here and could see me out there,” said Signor, 19, a senior.
Signor’s quest to win state title will continue this weekend at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro. On Saturday, he took second at the 4A/3A North Region Tournament. Signor isn’t extremely athletic, but he has experience in both American Kenpo Karate (black belt) and jiu-jitsu.
No matter what happens on the mat, Signor has already proven his strength.
Nearly a year ago, he completed the wrestling season despite competing with a knee injury that was initially diagnosed as a dislocated knee cap two days before the season began but later diagnosed as a torn cartilage.
Then came the death of his father.
Joel Signor was first diagnosed with a colon disorder 23 years ago, but cancer returned when his son was a high school freshman. It went into remission for almost a year and a half before spreading again.
Joel Signor attended every wrestling match dating to Justin’s two years in the recreation leagues.
“With his dad’s situation, I always kept telling him about the need to talk, what
could we do, what did he want or need,” said Franklin coach Brian Rudo, who has been part of the school’s wrestling program for more than two decades. “He just repeatedly said, ‘I will be at every match, even if he dies, I will be there for this team. I will not let anyone down.’ That’s a special kid.”
Both coach and wrestler thought Signor would compete in the 2022-23 season even though he needed a release from his doctors. The knee surgery in April was more complex than expected because a tendon had to be removed from his right quad to build a new ACL.
The plan was for Signor to hold off training until seven months after the surgery. Afterward, he and Rudo met several times a week to rebuild the knee. The doctors’ approval eventually came, but there were some anxious moments.
“He trains year-round. The harder it is, the happier he is,” Rudo said. “The harder you push him, he will ask for more. His season is incredible because of the ACL and [the fact that] he might not get cleared. Obviously, his dad was dying. Medically, it was never a question of whether he would be ready between him and I. We just needed the doctors to agree with us.”
Signor is 41-5 with 27 pins this season. He is extremely defensive on his feet and dares anyone to shoot on his legs. On the mat, he is flexible, which is why he likes to ride with his legs.
Is he limited? Yes, but winning 41 matches is impressive. More importantly, Signor set a goal of beating Sparrows Point’s Matt Laubach, who had beaten him twice the past two years. Signor won a 2-1 decision in double overtime in the county tournament semifinals.
“I’d like to think that I’m pretty honest about situations, try to go into situations realistically and not set unrealistic goals, so I can get there the right way,” Signor said. “Once I make a decision, I’m pretty resolute in it, and I hope people who know me will agree.”
“He is the perfect storm,” Rudo said. “He is an absolute leader; hardworking and trustworthy. He never complains and has brought in to what we teach here about hard work paying off. If it doesn’t work one way, he is going to find another way to do it.”
In some ways, Signor is a throwback. His favorite singers are the late Jackie Wilson, a blues and soul singer from the 1950s and 1960s, and Billy Joel.
His hobbies include playing board, video and card games. Signor has a 4.8 weighted GPA and has been accepted at all six colleges on his list, including his top choice of Springfield College in Massachusetts, where he plans to wrestle.
But that’s looking too far into the future. Wrestling is next up on the agenda, and a lot of people in the Reisterstown community know about Signor. His mother, Megan, was at Aberdeen on Saturday, as were his grandmothers Jennifer Goodwin and Barbara Signor.
“Winning the county was the most important thing,” Rudo said. “Laubach had beaten us twice, [so] we knew that if we beat him, we could win the county title. Can he win the states? Can he place? It’s all possible.
“But he told his dad we had something planned to win the county title, and that was attainable, achievable. Justin isn’t a phenomenal athlete, just a hardworking kid. After what he has been through, the regionals and states are gravy.”