Scotty Klepp wasn’t sure what to say.
The outpouring of support touched him so deeply he almost couldn’t find the right words to express his thanks for the brand new varsity jacket he was just given.
Then his wry sense of humor, as always, stole the show.
“Cool,” Klepp said. “Better late than never.”
Over 30 family members, coaches, teammates and friends were on hand Sunday afternoon to see Scotty, a member of the North Tonawanda High School Class of 1995, realize a long awaited dream when he received his varsity letterman’s jacket during a ceremony that was held at the McCauley Rehabilitation Center.
The navy blue coat came complete with the red NT logo, the weights he wrestled at on the left sleeve and a patch on the right arm commemorating the ’95 Jacks squad that won sectionals.
Klepp, 42, who was a member of the Lumberjacks wrestling program from 1993-95, is currently in McCauley rehabbing after suffering a stroke on June 18 that left him paralyzed on his left side.
Scotty’s mom, Priscilla Klepp, said that Scotty was at his doctor’s for a routine check-up when he suffered the stroke. And that Scotty was extremely fortunate because, had he been anywhere else at the time, the outcome might not have been so good.
“He’s had a fighting spirit since he was born,” Priscilla said. “He’s got a heart of gold.”
A variety of factors contributed to Scotty not receiving his varsity jacket during his high school days. When former NT wrestling coach Dan Fire found out what Scotty was going through he not only rushed to his former grappler’s side for moral support he wanted to do something that he knew would lift Scotty’s spirits.
So Fire put the word out on Facebook that he was endeavoring to raise $350 to buy Scotty his very own NT varsity jacket.
The response was immediate as Fire woke up the next morning and saw the donations had poured in overnight with more than enough to buy the jacket.
“That’s the love for the kid that people have had over the years,” Fire said. “He’s genuine. ”
As of Sunday, just over $1,2000 was raised. Nearly $800 of that came via Budwey’s Market where Scotty has worked for the past 22 years.
Prior to he and current NT wrestling coach Wally Maziarz presenting Scotty his coat, Fire spoke to the crowd about Scotty’s heart and what he meant to the team.
“He won matches,” Fire said as he paused to compose himself, “but he won more hearts.”
Fire, who has since penned several poems in Scotty’s honor, like everyone there could not help but wear his heart on his sleeve.
More than just the gift of the jacket, Scotty Klepp’s eyes welled up when he saw so many faces of friends and teammates. People who touched his life and whose lives were touched by Scotty and his fighter’s heart.
A fighter’s heart that Scotty had long before he ever stepped onto the wrestling mat.
Scotty was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder at a child.
It was a condition that made it tough for Scotty to do his school work. It also made him an easy target for the bullies. But he never complained. He handled things on his own.
Then, one day Scotty Klepp walked into the absolute last room in NTHS that anyone expected him to walk into.
The Lumberjack wrestling practice room.
“He was a target for being bullied. There’s no doubt about it that was happening. But they couldn’t break his spirit,” Fire said. “So what does he decide to do? He decides to go out for wrestling. He walked up there and it was an ‘are you sure you wanna be up here kinda thing?'”
Scotty was sure.
But it was far from an easy journey for Scotty.
The harsh reality is it was a much colder, non p.c. world in 1993.
Not only did the boys on the wrestling team not take it easy on Scotty.. most seemed to take delight in taking him on the mat and trying to prove that he had no business being in that room. In this sport. Or on that team.
“They bear hugged me. They mauled me,” Klepp said of those early days.
But a funny thing happened along the way, Klepp as always, never gave up. The harder guys pounded on him the stronger his resolve to keep fighting grew.
Chris Perna was a senior during Scotty’s first season. Perna said that with each passing day, slowly but surely Scotty Klepp won everyone’s respect and their hearts. Guys who wanted nothing to do with Scotty at first soon became his band of brothers. His protectors. Most of all his friends.
“You couldn’t break his spirit. He kept on coming back,” Perna said.
“It was funny, the kids on the team, we pushed the limits back then, it would never happen these days, and he kept on coming back to practice. But if anybody else ever did anything to Scott or looked at him wrong or said a (harsh) word to him – that was it.”
Perna also relayed the story of the final dual match of the year against Kenmore East. The coaches were debating on whether or not Scotty was ready for a varsity match. They decided to give him that chance and Scotty got the win.
More than 25 years later that moment still makes Chris Perna smile.
“Scott pinned the kid on the varsity team and the place went nuts,” Perna said with a smile. “Unfortunately other things happened afterwards and both teams got into a huge fight. But when you think back it was all about Scott pinning this kid.”
Coach Wally Maziarz (Class of 2010) was on hand with several members of the current NT wrestling team. Maziarz said he felt it was important to be there in support of Scotty. Not only because Scotty was still an avid supporter of a team, who could frequently be seen tossing shirts into the stands during meets, but because when trouble hits you stand by your family.
“When I stepped in and took over the program I wanted to carry the culture that coach Fire had in the past of the family aspect,” Maziarz said. “That family culture that we had before. We’ve always had that family aspect. For these guys to come in and see that 20-30 years down the road.. We’re still honoring our family. Our wrestlers as a team and being there for them in times of need. I think that speaks volumes of what kind of culture we’re trying to build here in NT.”
Priscilla Klepp said that she and Scotty are just overwhelmed by the show of support. From the daily visits from coach Fire to moments like Sunday afternoon. They are constant reminders that they are not fighting this battle alone.
“This is gonna boost him up to where he’s gonna try harder to walk,” Priscilla said.
“He even started crying.”
Though always in remarkably good spirits Scotty still has a long way to go before he can go home.
He has full use of his right arm which enables him to do every day things like eating and drinking. Scotty remarked that he has a sense of tingling in his left hand, which is encouraging, but still has to be able accomplish tasks like climbing at least seven stairs before he is released.
But there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Scotty will be home soon and in the stands cheering on the Jacks when the new wrestling season begins.
Whether it’s thumbing through a pro wrestling magazine, munching on popcorn or talking with friends Scotty Klepp’s positive attitude never waivers.
As tough as this fight is he’s thankful to be alive and grateful that so many people care about him. Even in the face of the biggest fight of his life Scotty Klepp can’t help but smile and give his trademark thumbs up.
“If you’re looking for a pity party here you’re not gonna find it,” Fire said. “He’s never been that way. He’s never looked for a pity party. He’s got a genuine spirit. He’s set a bar for that kind of spirit and I don’t even know if I could reach it.”
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