CASS CITY — Six years ago, Cass City Middle School Principal Don Markel approached a skinny seventh-grader in a school cafeteria — the kid who used a walker, the kid with familial spastic paraparesis, a rare hereditary disorder making it difficult for him to walk.
Markel asked him to become a wrestler.
“At first I wasn’t all for it, but he kind of talked me into it so I thought I would join the team,” said Tyler Hool, now 18 and a senior, who has wrestled for Cass City teams for six years.
“I wasn’t for it probably because I didn’t think I would be very good,” Hool said. “At first, I didn’t know.”
In truth, Hool — known in Cass City as “Hoolie” — hasn’t won many bouts in his Cass City wrestling career. He won a match in junior high, and captured his first varsity win last season against a Laker High opponent.
But Hool wrestles; Markel, the varsity wrestling coach, and Sterling Herrmann, his coach in seventh and eighth grades, have made sure of that.
“He’s very valuable because he leads through example,” said Markel, now the Cass City High School/Junior High assistant principal.
“That’s his real, true value,” Markel said. “I’d take 100 of him. He’s got a great attitude. Never complains, and the kids really respect him.”
Hool, the son of Dale Hool and Deb Hool, is co-captain of the Cass City Red Hawks this season along with Joe Kampo.
Hool is “the all-out leader of our team,” said Brad Baker, 16, a junior on the wrestling squad.
“He is probably the hardest worker on the team, out of everybody,” adds teammate Tylor Cowdry, 16, a junior.
“He doesn’t give any excuses at all, even though he’s the only one who has any,” Cowdry said.
Familial spastic paraparesis causes degeneration of the nerve pathways carrying signals from the brain down the spinal cord to muscles, according to www.merckmanuals.com.
It affects about seven of 100,000 people. Deb Hool has the disorder, and she said three of her five children do, too, though the symptoms are more pronounced in Tyler, who said he has used a walker since at least first grade.
“His legs will never go straight. They’re always tight,” Deb Hool said. “He doesn’t like taking painkillers, but I make him take them sometimes.”
Treatment for someone with familial spastic paraparesis includes exercise, physical therapy and drugs to reduce muscle spasticity.
Hool wrestles in either the 125-pound weight class or the 130-pound class. While opponents stand before the start of a bout against Hool, he starts each match from his knees.
“There’s no rule that says you have to be on your feet,” said Herrmann, a Cass City Junior High School teacher and Hool’s former wrestling coach.
“You just have to be at the line,” Herrmann said. “I think he does exceptionally well. I’ve seen him go long distances, several periods, have decision matches, where he wasn’t pinned. The other person won on points.
“I think that, for him, in the beginning, was ‘Hey, I went the distance. I did that.’ Then to have a few wins on top of that. That was great.”
Markel said Hool’s presence ensures the 14-person Cass City squad will feature a wrestler in either the 125-pound or 130-pound classes, rather than give an opposing team six points for not fielding a wrestler in a weight class.
With student enrollment declining for years in Michigan’s Thumb area, it’s not uncommon for some wrestling teams from the region to be unable to field wrestlers in all 14 weight classes.
“Oftentimes I’ll put Tyler up against the tougher kid on the other team, whichever weight class I put him into,” Markel said. “One of the things that Tyler understands is the team concept that goes along with wrestling. He knows that sometimes he has to make some personal sacrifices to go and wrestle up a weight class for the betterment of the team, and he’s very, very good about that.”
Though Cass City scores no points when a wrestler loses a bout, the opposing team scores fewer points if a Cass City wrestler — such as Hool — doesn’t get pinned and loses via a decision or a technical fall.
It pays, in the end, for a wrestler to last the duration of a six-minute, three-round match.
“Every time that Tyler is able to go out there and go the full six minutes, it saves us valuable team points, and he’s done that frequently in the past,” Markel said. “He’ll save us three team points by (losing by decision).”
In February of 2015, Cass City’s varsity wrestling team reached the state team finals for the first time in school history. In his match against an opponent from top-seeded Division 4 power New Lothrop inside Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek, Hool lasted all three rounds.
“He wrestled amazing that day,” Deb Hool said. “He went the whole three rounds and never got pinned.”
During a four-team home meet in January, Cass City co-captains Hool and Kampo walked onto the mat to shake hands against co-captains from Ubly. A minute or so later, Hool opened the match by facing opponent William Spicer Jr.
“Get ’em Hoolie!” a man yelled from the crowd.
Spicer won the bout by pinning Hool in the first round, but from the other end of the gym, Vassar High School wrestling coach Gary King sang Hool’s praises.
“You have to give him a lot of credit,” King said. “I’ve seen him come up through junior high, and he’s a tough kid. When the match is on, you don’t ever realize he has a disability, other than the way he starts. When he’s wrestling, he holds his own.”
Despite a physical weakness, Hool’s effort on the mat sends a strong message, according to Herrmann.
“I think everybody comes to the meet and they look and see him get off the mat and (say) ‘Hey, you know, he’s trying, why can’t I?’ I think he inspires everybody who sees him wrestle.”
Hool said he never thought of quitting wrestling “because I knew my teammates wanted me there.”
“So I do everything for them, and they work for me,” he said. “It’s kind of a two-way deal.”
When asked if he believes he is an inspiration, Hool said “Honestly, I do kind of, a little bit. I don’t know.”
Hool, who plans to study engineering in college, said he admires his older brother, Christopher Hool, 22, a former basketball player at Cass City High.
“Tyler would always go to my games,” Christopher Hool said. “I hit a game-winning shot one time and I turned around and he was right behind me, sitting in the stands.”
Christopher Hool, now of Saginaw, tries to return the favor for his younger brother. On the occasion of a Cass City wrestling meet one stormy January evening, Christopher Hool said “I got out of (college) class at 4, drove straight here, in this weather, just to watch him wrestle.”
Christopher Hool added that “Whenever I’m having a rough day or something, I just think of how hard he works and the effort he puts in, and it gets me through my day.”
Herrmann, Tyler Hool’s former wrestling coach, tried to sum up Tyler Hool as a wrestler.
“It’s what you do with what you have,” Herrmann said. “I think he has decided that he’s gonna do the most with what he has.”
When asked if he’s surprised he has gone the distance as a Cass City wrestler for six years, Hool said “Not really. Sometimes my body’s not into it but I make myself go. My mind is (into it), and my mind — and my family and my teammates — make myself go.”