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For week ended January 23, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Summarized by Lena Booth

Hayward Wrestler Unbeaten
San Francisco Chronicle 21 Jan 00
By Kelly St. John

"Sometimes just showing up makes you a winner" says Kelly St. John, writer for the SF Chronicle.

On January 13th, Hayward High senior Ben Fa'anunu beat Joseph Gonzales of San Lorenzo High in overtime. It wasn't by much, but it was enough to leave his coach in tears. Earlier that morning, Fa'anunu and his parents stood on the street watching a fire sweep through their Hayward home.

"My mom woke up at about 3:30 in the morning, and she noticed that the corner of the ceiling was glowing," Fa'anunu said. An electrical fire was ablaze in the attic. Firefighters chopped through the roof above his bedroom to get in. "It was just kind of hard to watch. You felt like you were losing everything."

Fa'anunu managed to get a nap Thursday morning and then persuaded his coached to let him compete that evening.

"I didn't want to let my team down," he said. "You know, we won. We haven't won a dual meet in a couple of years."

"Ben showed tremendous heart," said Courtney Kellogg, head wrestling coach. "With all that adversity, he was still able to win. It was not his usual caliber, but he pulled it out, in overtime when he was exhausted."

Fa'anunu is last year's defending league champion and the 189 wrestler is 16-0 this year, with three tournament championships to his credit. Local newspapers have started calling Fa'anunu, 17, possibly the best high school wrestler in the East Bay.

A devout Mormon with a mop of bleached curls, Fa'anunu "doesn't take anything for granted. I wish I had 30 kids with his values and work ethic," Kellogg said.

Praying and singing a hymn before each match is a personal ritual for Fa'anunu. "Praying calms me a bit. I always feel it's important for me to thank Him for my talent , and the opportunity to be in the match."

The Fa'anunu family of seven has coped with the fire by turning to their faith. While the house is being repaired, the family will move into an apartment for several months. The wrestler lost many items. Still, he is thankful. "After we were all safe, my mother told us, 'One of you kids must still have something on this earth to do.' I want to be worthy of that. I could have died," he said.

Fa'anunu hopes to attend a local college on a wrestling scholarship and serve a mission. His days start at 6 a.m. with seminary and three hours of wrestling practice after school. An Explorer Scout who also swims the 50-meter freestyle on the swim team in the spring, he also maintains a 3.2 GPA. Why then wrestling?

"I feel pulled here. Wrestling is still important to me," Fa'anunu said. He has held the same goal all season: to win the North Coast Section tournament in February.

But Fa'anunu fells the friendship of the team is as important as winning. His coaches and teammates surprised him with a gift of clothes to replace some of those lost. "All I've been hearing is, 'If there is anything else I can do,' " Fa'anunu said. "My team is more like family now than ever."


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