Crestwood's Josh Hillier never forgets father when on the mat

By Tom Nader | Sports Editor Published:

Tragedy unexpectedly threw itself into the life of Mantua's Josh Hillier in July of 2010.

His dad and best friend, who was a heavy machine operator at a local construction company, died of a stroke he suffered while at work.

Ron Hillier was only 46. He was the head of a household that included Josh, along with his eldest son Luke.

As Josh described it, they had been a "home of three boys" ever since Josh was 5 and Luke was 6.

"It was a shock. I couldn't believe that he was actually gone," Josh said.

Hillier, a Crestwood High School wrestling standout, turned to the mat as a refuge from the situation.

WRESTLING FOR DAD

Ron Hillier introduced wrestling to his two sons at an early age.

"I was only in the first grade when he took me to wrestling for the first time," Josh said.

Now without his dad, Hillier said it was on the mat that he was able to channel some of his frustration.

Wrestling presented a focus for his energy. It was something he could use as an outlet during a time of stress. It gave him a chance to remember his dad.

"Before just about every match, but especially the big ones, I always think to myself that I am going to win this one for my dad," said Hillier, who was a state qualifier at 126 pounds last season for the Red Devils.

One match from this season particularly stands out and Hillier is convinced he had a "little help." Hillier scored a last-second, one-point victory over a top-notch Field wrestler, when he executed an escape to break a tie and earn victory.

On the outside, it may have only been seen as an exciting finish to a wrestling match. For Hillier, though, it was that and a whole lot more.

It was another win for dad.

SUPPORT FROM AFAR

Hillier said he considers the relationship he shares with his older brother Luke as "truly special."

Luke, who graduated from Crestwood last year, went on to enlist in the Navy, where he has become a submarine mechanic stationed in Connecticut.

"It was really tough when he left, because it split us up," Hillier said. "He is my brother, but he is also my best friend. I really don't have any other immediate family other than him."

Hillier said he rarely gets the chance to talk to his brother because of busy and conflicting schedules.

Luke, however, did make a return to Northeast Ohio for Christmas.

"We had a chance to catch up with each other, it was great," Hillier said. "We really cherish the time we get to spend with each other."

Some of that time together was spent working on their dad's old truck. They want to fix it up in memory of their dad.

THE GRAVES FAMILY

Immediately after the death of his father, Hillier moved into the house of a close friend.

Not long after, though, Hillier moved into the home of Dan and Lisa Graves, whose son Jacob is a senior on the Red Devils' boys basketball team.

It is a family that Hillier said he has known since he was in the third grade.

He has now been living with the family for a year, and Hillier said he could not be more thankful and appreciative for what the Graves family has given back to him.

"They let me be myself, and they honestly treat me like I am one of their sons," Josh said. "I help them around the house, they take me out to dinner and we go to church every Sunday. I am so grateful for everything they have done for me."

COACH WROBEL'S SUPPORT

Crestwood wrestling head coach Dave Wrobel has also become a large part of Hillier's support system.

The day Hillier received the news of his dad's death, Wrobel visited his house to see what he could do to help.

It was an action that made an everlasting impact on Hillier.

"I will never forget that," Josh said. "That was really special to me, that he would be there for me like that.

"Coach is a real good guy, and he has helped me through everything. Just been very understanding. He is someone I know I can go to for support or to talk to."

HILLIER'S HECTIC SCHEDULE

Hillier spent last year working four to five days a week.

"I had to get a job so that I could help pay for things," he said.

Hillier's days oftentimes consisted of school, then wrestling practice, then work.

"It was a lot, but it never really overwhelmed me," he said. "My schedule was completely packed, but it kept me on a good path, the right path and that is what I appreciated most about it."

For his final year of high school wrestling, Hillier made a decision to work fewer hours in order to focus on wrestling.

After qualifying for the state tournament at 126 pounds last season, Hillier says he has set a goal to get on the podium in Columbus at 132 pounds this year.

First thing is first for Hillier, though, which means the sectional tournament at West Branch on Friday and Saturday.

"I hope to win the sectional and get a good seed at the district tournament," Hillier said. "I want a repeat trip to state this year, but hopefully this time get a spot on the podium."

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Email: tnader@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9443

Twitter: @Tom_Nader

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  • Good Luck Josh. We all miss Ron, make him proud of you.