Lane Dillon’s dream job — a professional wrestler competing alongside Tatsumi Fujinami and other Dragon Gate favorites — would take him from his Greene County home more than 6,000 miles away to Japan to, as he describes it, “Give the fans what they like and make sure the roof comes off.”
Until then, Dillon will continue bringing them down.
The Greeneview High School sophomore entered the Division III sectional wrestling tournament with four wins. He’s also won hundreds of hearts as he wrestles with autism.
“Win, lose or draw, I’m just glad I’m doing it,” Dillon said prior to practice with his teammates at the Rams’ wrestling room earlier this week.
“Wrestling with autism has its highs and lows basically. I manage to get through it. … It’s only my second year, but the conditioning can be hard. With autism, I usually get stressed, but I try to control it, take care of it, get rid of it.”
There have been four wins this year in the 195-pound weight class: three by pin and one by a weight-class forfeit.
Against Southeastern freshman Josh Baise at a recent quad meet, the Rams grappler dropped Baise to the mat in six seconds. Dillon pinned Baise in 35 seconds for his first victory this season. The win also helped the Rams capture the team title.
“The whistle blew and I was yelling for moves for him to hit. He hit what I said,” said Rams first-year coach Brock Wagner. “He took Josh down, the threw a half and it looked like Lane had been wrestling for years. It was really cool.”
An exuberant Dillon celebrated with fist pumps as the official raised Dillon’s hand to signal the winner. Dillon — friendly, engaging and quick to offer a handshake — grabbed Baise’s hand and raised it with his own to share the triumphant moment.
Standing next to Dillon on the mat and facing a cheering crowd, a loss never felt so much like a victory for Baise, who knew the outcome prior to stepping on the mat.
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Baise said of calling it the greatest loss he’s ever experienced. “When I won my first match I was pretty excited and pretty happy, and I was glad he could experience that.”
“There are some things bigger than wrestling,” said Southeastern coach Joe Hall. “There’s going to be life after wrestling. We’re trying to teach life lessons as we go in addition to technique is what we’re out here for.”
On more than one occasion, wrestlers from other schools have joined Lane in the bleachers in between matches to talk wrestling. Mechanicsburg senior Michael Knapp, the Ohio Heritage Conference champion at 195, beat Dillon earlier in the conference meet.
He found Dillon in the stands after, talked some shop and showed him a few moves. The two wrestled an exhibition match near the end of the tournament — at Knapp’s request — and Dillon pinned him using Knapp’s moves.
“He deserved it because it looks like he works really hard at the sport,” Knapp said. “I just wanted to show him a few moves. … I couldn’t leave that tournament with him not winning a match. I thought he deserved it because he worked really hard.”
Dillon came home from school one day during his freshman year and told his mother, Melinda Pierce, he wanted to sign up for wrestling. Soon after, he did.
“I said OK, let’s do it. I’ve been proud of him,” said Pierce, whose parents Mark and Mary Pierce have provided major support as two of Dillon’s biggest fans, as well as helping with those valuable drives getting Dillon to practices and meets.
Dillon’s first season was a struggle at times. First there was learning the variety of wrestling moves and getting down the basics. Following the brackets at invitationals, especially at larger ones, and keeping track of the scheduled matches had its challenges. His Rams coaches and teammates were quick to help Dillon at every turn and takedown.
Pierce said Dillon picked up his first career victory last season at Greeneview’s only home meet. Gaining that experience as a freshman helped Dillon come back more prepared for his sophomore season.
“His coaches and his teammates have been amazing with him,” Pierce said. “They make sure he knows when he’ll be up and when he has bye. They’ve been fantastic. There’s a lot of hard-to-understand things about wrestling. When you throw his autism in with it, I’m sure it’s 10 times harder. That’s another thing that’s impressed me about Lane, is the things he’s learned from it. It’s been a good year.”
In Greeneview’s practice room, Dillon often drills with and does some live wrestling with 220-pound senior Isaiah Harding. Dillon also gets in mat time drilling with 106-pound freshman Devan Hendricks.
Greeneview had a decent number of freshman come out last season but Dillon was one of the few to return for 2016.
“It’s fun to watch him win out there,” Harding said. “It inspires the whole team because he comes out every day and works hard. I’m proud of him for his hard work and effort.”
Dillon does some teaching of his own on the mats, too. The pro wrestling junkie has demonstrated a few of his favorite moves to Harding when the two are wrestling during lighter moments on the mat.
“He shows me a lot of his (pro wrestling) moves,” Harding said. “He’ll come in with a new move and teach me how to do it.”
Added Hendricks, with a smile: “He’ll try to headbutt you sometimes.
“(We treat him) just like he’s another teammate,” Hendricks said. “He’s got a lot of heart to come out here and wrestle with autism. From last year I heard he’d be on his phone during practice. Now he comes out and runs and drills with us. He’s shown a big improvement.”
With Harding the Rams’ hammer at 220 pounds, Dillon had to drop about five pounds to compete at 195 this season. Conditioning, cutting back on pop and making fewer less frequent visits to favorite restaurants like Popeyes, Don & Marty’s Corner Pizza in Jeffersonville and those Japanese hibachi steak houses got him most of the way. He still needed to drop half a pound to make weight, so coach Wagner gave Dillon added incentive — tickets to WWE Smackdown at Wright State’s Nutter Center.
“I’ve never met someone who loves the sport as much as he does,” Wagner said. “He was 195.5 and I made him a deal if he could lose that half pound he’d get his Varsity G letter and I’d buy him a WWE ticket. He made the weight.”
Dillon’s ultimate goal is to wrestle in Japan. A walking encyclopedia on professional wrestling and mixed martial arts, Dillon came up with the idea to wrestle when “I decided to have the dream of being a MMA fighter and professional wrestler.”
His favorite WWE wrestler is Rob Van Dam. Ken Shamrock, Royce Gracie and Jushin “Thunder” Liger are among those he hopes to meet someday. One name he can cross off his wishlist is UFC welterweight and Jamestown native Matt Brown. The two had dinner and also met at the 1999 Greeneview graduate’s house so Brown could autograph Dillon’s UFC encyclopedia.
Brown’s gesture is something Dillon plans to continue.
“One thing I am going to do is with little kids and fans, I’m going to keep a connection with them,” Dillon said of his wrestling future. “I have that unique connection with people I meet. It gives me that unique ability — you know the expression ‘the roof comes off’ — I’m going to give the fans what they like and make sure the roof comes off.”
Dillon will give that another go when he competes in the Richardson Foundation’s Wrestle Against Autism event on April 26th at Olentangy Orange High School in Lewis Center. He wrestled in the event last year and took third.
As Dillon wrestled with one of the final questions asked of him — ‘What does it feel like to win a wrestling match?’ — his mother tagged in to finish his sentence.
“When you win it’s like … ” Dillon started, contemplating the perfect words.
“Is it like going to a Japanese steak house after the wrestling season is over?” asked Pierce.
“It’s like you want to celebrate with the crowd and raise the roof off the joint,” Dillon said.
Thank you for reading the Dayton Daily News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Dayton Daily News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.