Woodlan wrestler Mitch Hoot’s heart is bigger than his challenges

Woodlan junior wrestler Mitch Hoot continually fights to overcome his disadvantages. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

Seventeen years ago when Mitch Hoot was born in Hong Kong, he arrived 12 weeks early weighing 2 pounds, 2 ounces. Because he was born with 19 birth defects, his parents simply didn’t think they were capable of raising a child with his needs and walked away.

They didn’t know he also had one unbelievably huge heart.

Despite doctors saying he was severely retarded, he was adopted when he was 2 years old by Woodburn’s Marv and Apryl Hoot who never gave up on him.

“I refused to accept the concept that he was retarded,” Apryl Hoot said. “We had a doctor tell us that one of these days he would stop developing. I asked him why, and he wouldn’t tell me. Tell me I can’t, and I’ll prove you wrong.”

Apryl has got a pretty good history of that, as the Hoots are somewhat famous for being a little stubborn when it comes to their kids. Mitch is one of six children they have adopted from various countries, four with severe physical challenges. No one tells the Hoot children what they can’t do, and everyone always ends up amazed at what they prove they can do. Their parents never mention the word “can’t,” and the kids always find ways with unbelievable determination, hope and perseverance.

They are an unforgettable family of encouragement, which is used to fighting stereotypes, expectations and limitations. Each provides inspiration for the others and examples to everyone else. Someday they could be a movie of the week, but it may be too unrealistic to believe.

And Mitch might be the member who has overcome the most.

His main disadvantages are being legally blind, cerebral palsy and the two halves of his brain do not work together. He plays in the band to stimulate one half and wrestles for the other, but that inability for the sides to compute together hurts him on the wrestling mat. By the time he comprehends what is happening and compensates, his opponent has usually taken advantage.

He’s never won a head-to-head match, but he always comes off the match with a smile. Instead of shaking his opponents’ hands, he always leaves them with a hug and returns to the Warriors’ bench for a group hug. His teammates love and respect him.

“Mitch is a really, really tough guy,” teammate Dirk Hershberger said. “He has a lot of heart on this team and puts everything he has into it. He may not win a lot, but he shows a lot out there on the mat. He comes back every day with a smile on his face and pushes himself.”

And he never gets discouraged. Mitch said he goes out for every match thinking he’s going to win, and Warriors coach Tony Girod said he sees gradual improvement, and a recent addition of sports spectacles has helped. He’s still reacting instead of initiating moves, but his reaction times are quicker now that he can see his opponent more clearly.

“He truly enjoys wrestling and every day he gets beat on,” Girod said. “The kids take it easy on him a little bit, but he always comes back for more. Every time I get discouraged, I think about what how our kids and Mitch doing with situations like this and it puts everything into perspective.”

Part of the improvement is tracking how far Hoot extends into a match or if he executes a move correctly. He came close to winning one match last year and another this season.

“We’re all waiting for that one match,” Girod said. “We’re all hoping that he gets that win and gets to have his hand raised. We have the rest of this year and all of next year, so who knows? Hopefully, he can get some wins under his belt.”

When that happens, the Warriors will be so excited they really won’t care if they lose every other match that night. Within minutes, everyone from the school will know because that’s how popular Mitch is. They’ve all adopted him, and not just the wrestlers but the football team and everyone else who has gotten a hug from Hoot in the hallway.

Last year, with everyone cheering him, he won a school planking contest, lasting 12 minutes.

“That kind of tells you how he is and how people feel about him,” Woodlan teacher Sue Wuest said. “People watch out for him and he has a lot of true friends. He is an inspiration partly because whatever he’s going to do, he’s doing the best he can.”

That shows up off the wrestling mat as well. Hoot’s grades continually improve during the wrestling season, and he said that’s because participating helps keep him focused.

But if he never gets anything but losses, what does Hoot really get out of wrestling?

He gets to be part of a team, a big part of something bigger, an experience he’s been told his whole life wasn’t possible or realistic. It means acceptance for who he is and not what others may think he is.