Favorite athlete: Carson Wentz
Favorite team: 76ers
Favorite memory competing in sports: Going to states
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: One of my teammates missed weight by .2 in the postseason.
Music on mobile device: Rap
Future plans: Major in pre-med
Words to live by: “Believe”
One goal before turning 30: Graduate from medical school
One thing people don’t know about me: I want to be a doctor
By Ed Morrone
For Marco DiBattista, success on the wrestling mat came early.
Until suddenly, it didn’t, leaving his future in the sport very much in doubt.
DiBattista, now a senior at Plymouth Whitemarsh, comes from a wrestling family. His two older brothers, Nicolino and Gianpiero, also participated in the sport; since they are so close in age, the boys’ mother signed them up early as a way to channel the aggression they showed toward each other inside the DiBattista home.
“I was four years old when I started,” DiBattista recalled. “My brothers and I liked to fight at home, and my mom just wanted to throw us into a matted area so we wouldn’t hurt each other or break anything. I still messed around and got in fights with my brothers, but this was a fun way to do it while also making a lot more friends.”
Marco and his brothers stuck with wrestling into middle school, often competing on the same teams. The sport brought them all closer together, and even after Nicolino decided to give it up and focus on gymnastics, Gianpiero and Marco kept wrestling. In fact, the two were even members of PW’s varsity team together for one season, when Marco was a freshman and Gianpiero a senior.
During the brothers’ journey from youth wrestling to middle school, they became close with the family of David Luthy, Marco’s middle school wrestling coach, whose younger brother was the same age as Gianpiero. Luthy, now in his first full season as PW’s head wrestling coach, recalled how he was drawn to the DiBattista brothers’ wrestling knowledge and ability.
“I’ve known them since they were growing up, and Marco especially always struck me as a really special kid,” Luthy said. “He and I have been very close for awhile. I was his middle school coach, and then later an assistant at the high school level, so he and I worked out together on the mat on a regular basis.
“It’s a very special connection. Beyond just wrestling, he’s just a great kid to be around. He’s sneaky funny to the point where kids just gravitate towards him. He’s one of my favorite kids that I’ve ever coached.”
When Gianpiero first joined the high school team, PW’s program was one of the least competitive in the league, according to Marco. But by Marco’s freshman year, the program had turned a corner and was “pretty much beating everyone,” and Marco became a regional qualifier in his first year as a varsity wrestler.
“That was definitely my favorite year,” Marco said. “The team was really good, and my brother and I were on the team together. It was one of the hardest years, conditioning-wise, but it was so much fun. We were all so committed and we bonded every day. We worked hard every practice and pushed each other because we wanted to win a league title, which we did. We delivered.”
After making it further into the postseason than anyone else on the team as a freshman and finishing 31-7 on the season, one would think DiBattista would have picked right up where he left off.
That didn’t happen. In fact, he went backwards.
After such a successful freshman campaign, DiBattista began to feel heavy pressure to perform well, so much so that he began to dread going to practice and matches. Gianpiero had graduated, so Marco’s security blanket was also gone, and he just didn’t know how to deal with and replicate the success from the previous year.
“I developed a lot of mental blocks,” he said. “I thought my teammates and coaches were putting pressure on me, but they weren’t; I was putting it on myself. I’d go into matches shaking, and I just couldn’t perform well. I did fine at leagues but I really had some letdowns at districts, losing some matches I know I should have won.”
A few of DiBattista’s PW teammates made it to regionals that year, and he was so down on himself and the sport that he didn’t even want to go support his teammates. His mother and Gianpiero persuaded him to go, but Marco still was unsure of his future in the sport.
“I wanted to quit, even a month or two after the season was over,” he said. “I hated the pressure, I hated the matches. My parents and my brothers didn’t give up on me, though. They knew what was best for me when I didn’t know it myself.”
Eventually, DiBattista got help. He began seeing a therapist, who helped him harness his anxiety, and the results were an unequivocal success.
“It was the best possible thing I could have done,” he said. “I dealt with overcoming that anxiety, and it just got me stronger mentally. Once I started seeing the therapist, it didn’t take long before wrestling was fun again. I went right back to loving it heading into junior year.”
Luthy, who has known DiBattista for a large swath of the latter’s life, saw how hard his pupil was being on himself in the aftermath of his successful freshman campaign. Essentially, DiBattista was just thinking too much, and he needed to get out of his own head.
“I think it was as simple as him just going out and wrestling,” Luthy said. “Not worrying about his opponent or how many accolades the kid he was wrestling had, just putting his foot on the pedal and continue going. He has an unbelievable gas tank and knowledge of the sport itself, so he just needed to re-invest himself in it to remind him why he loved wrestling to begin with.”
Once DiBattista got to that point, he was off to the races again. He was named a team captain junior year, and the results once again followed in the form of a 28-6 overall record. He began dominating opponents he previously lost to or just slipped past, and his road to redemption led him all the way to Hershey as a state qualifier.
While DiBattista didn’t bring home a medal, he saw what he was capable of once he stopped putting the weight of the world on his own shoulders.
“My goal for junior year was to just keep working hard,” he said. “Don’t worry about winning or losing, just worry about wrestling the best I possibly can that day. I started thinking that way constantly, and once I was on the right track again all I could think about was avenging myself in districts.”
Despite a few close calls at districts, DiBattista made it back to regionals, where he had little trouble advancing to Hershey. He wasn’t scared off by the magnitude of the competition nor overwhelmed by the stage. It was, after all, still just wrestling, a sport that had been part of his life since training wheels were still on his bike.
As a senior, DiBattista has had his best win-loss success, compiling a 24-1 record while wrestling at 120 or 126 lbs. He’s currently ranked fifth in District One at 120, and his remaining goal in his final season is of course to get back to Hershey and place. However, DiBattista’s also taking it one step at a time, worrying first about leagues, then districts, then regionals, knowing full well that if he thinks too far ahead as he did sophomore year then trouble could find him again.
“The goal is definitely to place at states, but I have to attack these one at a time,” he said. “Otherwise I’ll be back in my own head like sophomore year, and that was just an awful time.”
While DiBattista hasn’t decided where he’s going to college in the fall yet, he knows that he wants to be a pre-med major. He will decide later what exactly he wants to study in the field of medicine, as well as if he’ll wrestle in college; what he does know is that he wants to challenge himself professionally more than anything, so school will be his primary focus.
“Sitting at a desk all day doing paperwork, that’s boring to me,” DiBattista said. “I want to do something hard, something interesting. In medicine, you’re always on your feet, always thinking in an always-changing environment. It’s kind of like wrestling in that way.”
Luthy recently changed careers and became a firefighter, and he said his girlfriend works as a physician’s assistant, so he’s familiar with the fields of medicine and emergency personnel. DiBattista has no doubt that whatever branch of medicine he settles on, that he will find success.
“He will be great in whatever field he chooses,” Luthy said. “He’s got a great family and support system, and that makes a huge difference. He’s the kind of kid you can send out the door tomorrow and you just know he will be perfectly fine because of the confidence he has in himself. He’s got a great head on his shoulders. If I could take a thousand Marco’s, I’d do it in a heartbeat; there’s only one of him, so I’m just glad I’ve had the last six years to coach him and watch him develop. I’m excited to see what the future holds for him.”
DiBattista isn’t sure just yet what the future will hold, but he’s got his swagger back. Wrestling has played a major role in that, as he’s learned equally from both his athletic success and failure.
“I’m confident and excited again,” he said. “Wrestling has really helped with my nerves, as well as my time management. Being a part of a team, working together toward a common goal, that’s only going to help prepare me for college and whatever comes after.”