SALEM — You don’t have to be a private investigator, like his coach Wes Decker, to discover there is a lot to like about Salem High wrestler John Rheaume.
The 120-pounder went 41-7 on the mat this winter, he’s ranked seventh in a class of 310 students and scored a 2,020 on his SATs, and a 33 on his ACT (which converts to about 2,240 SAT). Oh, and he’s an Eagle Scout, too!
Rheaume, who also was a captain on the cross country team, will be continuing his wrestling career at WPI, where he’ll be studying mechanical engineering. He also was accepted to Northeastern, RPI, UVM and Lehigh.
Rheaume’s resume speaks for itself, but Decker says there is much, much more to the story.
“I said this to his parents after New Englands: ‘He might be the only wrestler I’ve ever coached that I’d consider irreplaceable,’” said Decker, who was a state champion for Timberlane in 1987. “Only half that is his ability. He’s a great leader, he’s a great kid. We could give him our Sportmanship Award, Hardest Worker and Most Improved. You could give all of them to him. That’s the type of kid he is.”
The 5-foot-3 Rheaume, who had a 151-25 career record, said he was fortunate to avoid serious injuries in his four years starring for the Blue Devils.
“Just the general aches and pains and sores,” said Rheaume, whose sister, Michelle, is ranked No. 2 in Salem’s sophomore class. “You learn to live with it. I show up to class with mat burns on my face. People laugh. I just shrug it off.”
To be the type of scholar-athlete to win Moynihan Scholar-Athlete of the Month puts you in a select company. To do it as a wrestler is even more challenging.
“In my opinion, it’s the hardest sport there is,” said Decker, a former Salem policeman. “There is the physical and mental grind and the weight challenge.
“The world is littered with state and New England champs that look back with regret that they didn’t give the same effort to academics. His academics will take him a lot further than any medals. He always made academics a priority, but not at the expense of dedication to the team or the sport. He has a unique ability to put his mind to something and get it done without complaint or issue.”
The word that often comes up with scholar-athletes is drive.
“Definitely,” said Rheaume. “There is not a lot of time sitting around doing nothing. Wrestling can be tough on the body and energy, especially at the end of the year. You’re just tired from practice and focusing on the big meets and matches. You just have to get a good night’s rest and be prepared.”
His father, Rod Rheaume, wrestled at Middlebury High in Vermont. But John said he never expected to wrestle.
“I lived in Tennessee for a year,” said Rheaume. “I didn’t make the soccer team. (So I said) ‘Why not try wrestling?’ It turned out great for me. It was a huge, huge change. Wrestling changed the course of my life. It gave me confidence and built up my character.
“But I don’t think (becoming a wrestler) was inevitable. It was a pretty small chance really. But as soon as I started, I couldn’t stop.”
Coaches and athletic directors can send Moynihan Scholar-Athlete nominees to Michael Muldoon at email@example.com.