All of the wrestlers honored during Monday’s 21st Ilio DiPaolo Scholarship Awards Dinner had burning desires to win during their high school careers.
Only one of them, though, has captured national and state championships.
That was Kellen Devlin, who received this year’s Ilio DiPaolo Award.
Devlin capped his sterling career at Amherst High School with one more honor as the future North Carolina State wrestler was presented with the top award during a dinner ceremony at Ilio DiPaolo’s Restaurant that attracted an estimated 180 guests. Former Buffalo Bills guard Ruben Brown was guest speaker.
The award is presented in honor of DiPaolo, who strongly believed and supported the values of family, education, athletics and community, to the area’s top wrestler as determined by the Ilio DiPaolo Scholarship Committee.
“Just to be nominated is an honor,” Devlin said. “Everybody that’s nominated are the most prestigious wrestlers in the area. To win it ... you have to be the cream of the crop.”
The 132-pounder posted a 259-16 record in six seasons, including a 49-1 mark last season. He capped it by winning his third straight state championship.
The five-time Section VI champion also won state titles at 125 pounds as a sophomore and junior. The four-time All-American won the National High School Coaches Association Junior National Championship in 2015.
He also organized and instructed a weekly regional wrestling clinic at Amherst that featured the area’s top scholastic talents.
Devlin’s also a member of Students Against Abusive Dating, mentors underclassmen as student leader of Pathfinders and is an honor roll student.
“He’s an outstanding wrestler and more importantly an outstanding young man,” Dennis DiPaolo, Ilio’s son, said.
“I know people are looking at me so I’m making sure I’m the best young man I can be on and off the mat,” Devlin said. “I have to say thanks to my family, especially my father. He paves the way for my success. He provides the outlets for me to be as good as I want to be.”
Others honored Monday were Ryan Hetrick, Dakota Gardner, Bradley Bihler and Cameron Swick.
Hetrick earned the Gary Castanza Award for being community-oriented. The Maple Grove 120-pounder is a three-time sectional champion, amassing a 224-35 career record. Hetrick, who also runs cross country and track, volunteers at Special Olympics and Relay for Life, Walk for Cystic Fibrosis and What’s New Fair at Jamestown Community College. He also participated in the Laurel Run against Autism.
Maple Grove teammate Bihler captured the Bill Hein Dedicated Wrestler Award. Honored as the school’s scholar athlete four years running, Bihler won the state title at 138 pounds last winter. He holds school records for pins (25) and career wins (192).
Gardner, the 152-pounder from Fredonia, earned the Destroyer Wrestling Award named in honor of professional wrestler Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer. Gardner posted a 267-29 mark, including 48-3 last season and was second twice at states and won two Section VI titles.
Gardner’s win total is second all-time in Western New York, is a five-time state tournament participant and three-time All-American.
Beyer showed up at the dinner wearing his signature mask and presented Gardner with his own Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer mask. Gardner gave his acceptance speech wearing the mask.
Swick overcame health issues and ended his career at Roy-Hart as state champion at 160 pounds.
The dinner was sponsored by the Buffalo Bills, Sysco Foods, Polymer Conversions, the Buffalo Bills Youth Foundation, Buffalo Spine Surgery and Dr. Andy Cappuccino, the McCollum-Christoferson Group, Intrepid Automotive Enterprises, the MJ Kelley Foundation, Avanti-USA, Hanes Supply Co., Quaker Crossing, William & Diane Hein Foundation and the Buffalo News.