When Waite won its third straight City League wrestling championship last Saturday at Rogers, it is safe to say that no other Indian wrestler was prouder of being a part of that victory than junior Kevin Roper.
No, Roper was not one of Waite's four individual champions. In fact, he placed fifth at 171 pounds to lift his season record to a modest 9-8.
But if you take a deeper look at the kid known jokingly but respectfully to his teammates as 'Roper Doper' or 'Whitey' it is hard not to find a champion inside.
Kevin Roper - whose father, James, wrestled for current Waite coach Carmen Amenta in the mid 1980s at the former DeVilbiss High School - has to take a deeper look just to see anything at all.
He was born with albinism, a lack of skin pigmentation that causes unusually light and especially sensitive skin. Another problem associated with albinos is poor vision.
James Roper, who watched the City League tournament in between tasks at Rogers, where he is a custodian, said his son has virtually no vision without his thick-lensed glasses and is legally blind. James also said that at least one doctor once told him and his former wife (Kay Ketron) that it would be best if Kevin "stayed in a dark room" to avoid harmful sunlight. Participation is sports, at least outdoors, was out of the question.
"I used to get picked on a lot," Roper said of his younger years.
"[Kids would] make fun of the way I look and that I couldn't see real good. From my friends I kind of laugh it off. But if anybody I don't know says it, I kind of get mad.
"I like wrestling because I'm part of a team and I don't have to try to change myself just to fit in with everybody else. I love the sport. They treat me all right. We go back and forth [trading insults]. Everybody in the room helps everyone else work hard. That's how we won the City. I'm real proud of that and real proud of my teammates."
For parents James and Kay, this rare condition became not so rare in their family. Not long after Kevin came Candace, a sophomore at Waite. She, too, has albinism and the associated vision difficulty.
But their shared obstacle has kept neither Kevin nor Candace in the dark.
Candace may actually have a more severe vision limitation than her brother, but is driven by academics. She ranks fourth in her class at Waite with a grade-point average above 3.9.
Although he struggles to read, Kevin has always insisted on no special classes or other assistance in the classroom.
"I'm vision impaired," Roper said. "I see 20/300 with my glasses on, and I have astigmatism. My eyes move back and forth real fast, so it's hard to focus on anything.
"Without the glasses I can barely see anything and I can't read anything. It's always been the same, but I've gotten used to it over the years. I have to read up close [four to six inches from his face]. Sometimes I use a magnifying glass or have the teacher enlarge it for me."
He probably pays the price for his stubborn outlook, carrying about a 1.5 grade-point average. But this same strong will has driven him to make it in wrestling.
"Other kids read and it's like nothing to them," Roper said. "It takes me twice as long as anybody else.
"But I don't think it's an excuse. I think, if I can do it, even if I have to work harder, that's all right. I think I should be with everybody else. That [special classes] would be taking the easy way out. I don't want to do that."
Kevin began wrestling while at East Toledo Junior High, and was hooked from the start. The past two summers he has competed with the Lake Erie Wrestling Club, never missing a practice, according to Amenta, who like many others at Waite has been won over by the 16-year-old's spirit.
When Roper visits Amenta's Oregon home in the summer, he swims with his coach's sons (ages 10 and 11), but wears a T-shirt for protection.
"I don't have any pigment in my skin," Roper said. "In the summer, I have to wear sunblock at all times or I'll get burned bad. One time I got third-degree burns on my back just from swimming for a half an hour.
"I like sports a lot so I didn't want it to hold me back or anything. I like being around other people, hanging out and wrestling. Wrestling has turned into my whole life."
Kevin tried to branch out last year to cross country, running for coach Fred Clement, Waite's former head wrestling coach who still works with the program. That experiment lasted only until Clement had to pull Roper from the path of an oncoming bus one day during a practice run near the base of the Anthony Wayne Bridge. Roper saw the first bus and waited, but did not see the second.
Roper also tried freshman baseball two years ago, according to Amenta, but kept getting hit by the ball and had to end that quest.
On the mat he is strong, has talent and, Amenta feels, the potential to excel next year. Roper, targeted to be Waite's 140-pounder this year, was within six pounds of making that weight until a bout with impetigo, a bacterial skin condition, forced him out of action for several weeks. Any perspiration threatened to spread the condition, and Roper had to wait until he was sufficiently healed.
Once he rejoined the team, he had to take lineup openings where they existed, and has competed at 145, 152, 160 and 171 pounds.
Equal treatment is what Roper wants, and it is what he gets from Amenta, and from his teammates.
"I don't look at him as having any limitations," Amenta said. "I yell at him just like I yell at my other kids. His condition is a non-factor for us. Very rarely does it come into play. He doesn't use it as a crutch.
"For a kid who has something like that, he doesn't let it affect him. He's really a special kid."
Roper's next mat test comes today at the Division I sectional tournament at Rogers. Sectionals in all three divisions conclude tomorrow at various sites around northwest Ohio.
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