When Steve Defillip stepped on a wrestling mat, there were some doubts, but it wasn’t long before opponents were left shaking their heads.

More than three decades ago, Defillip showed true grit and determination on the wrestling mat, and those attributes will be recognized by his induction today in the Maine Amateur Wrestling Hall of Fame.

In a two-year span, this former Rumford standout accomplished a great deal. His competitiveness and desire to succeed simply couldn’t be overlooked. Defillip embraced the true meaning of the sport, overcame adversity, and his later performances became legendary.

“I lost my first two matches because I was just learning the sport,” Defillip said. “(But) I knew if I kept working hard, things would turn around. My coaches, Jerry Perkins and his assistant Tom Paridis and Tom Costello, had an immediate influence on my wrestling career. I eventually took a step down to 112 pounds from 119. Coach Perkins took my fellow teammates and I and created a dynasty; this was through hard work and mental preparation.”

Defillip, Pat Kelly of Camden and Jim Tuttle of Sanford will be inducted in to the MAWA Hall of Fame today in Portland.

Defillip was recruited off the football field as a junior and endured growing pains early on. Those setbacks eventually paved the way in turning things around, and he became a powerhouse.

Defillip won two Class A state championships, and even more importantly helped Rumford win the team championship both years. Rumford won a total of three straight Class A State Wrestling Championships from 1972 to 1974.

“Steve was strong,” Perkins said. “But, he was also a natural wrestler with tremendous balance and super competitive instincts. He was a tireless worker, listened well and never gave in. Steve defied the odds, as he would continue to do throughout his career on the mats.”

As a matter of fact, Dave Magoon and Defillip each repeated as two-time state champions in their only two years of competition. From 1973 to 1979, Maine only had one classification, so a State Champion was the best in Maine. That record is expected to stand the test of time.

The 1973 team set a then-national record with six individual state champions, including Magoon (98), Rick Labrecque (105), Defillip, Gary Daigle (119), Jimmy Richards (126) and Linwood Arsenault at 155. The Panther team is considered among the best in the history of Maine wrestling.

“Much of my success came from an aggressive style,” Defillip said. “This was complemented by a lower body strength that helped me balance. Something I always found humorous was after my matches people would come up to me and ask me if I lifted weights, and my response was always the same, ‘nope, I just stay in shape,’ and much credit for that goes to my coaches for pushing me as hard as possible.”

Defillip even achieved success at the next level by being a two-time New England finalist. He lost in overtime as a senior, and Magoon (fourth) helped the Rumford team achieve a fourth-place N.E. finish.

Several years ago, Defillip was able to enjoy watching his godson and nephew Jason Buotte, who has a similar style, also win two state wrestling championships for Mountain Valley.

Defillip is the fifth member of the 1974 Rumford team elected to the Hall of Fame, joining coach Perkins, Steve Nokes, Larry Gill and Bob McPhee.

In the summer of 1974, Defillip participated on a team of Maine all-stars in a meet against the Russian Junior National team. Defillip faced a tough opponent, Sergei Belzigastav, who was an eventual two-time gold medal recipient in the Olympics. It was a special match, not only because Defillip competed against the best, but his godfather Steve Evanoff officiated the match. Evanoff was an Olympic referee and is a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame.

“To most that see a wrestling match, it is believed that wrestling is an individual sport,” Defillip said. “To the naked eye it is one man versus another, but in reality some of my most memorable moments were sharing the big victories with my teammates. One of the best leaders was David Magoon who was a great motivator and got the team fired up.”

Today, Defillip’s life has taken a turn from wrestling, and now works in the United States Postal Service in Portland. Together with his wife Diane Madore Defillip, they have enjoyed following the careers of children Craig and Kaitlyn.

The Hall of Fame banquet is today at Keeley the Katerer in Portland. The start time is 6:30 p.m. with a social hour, meal served at 7 p.m., and the ceremony starting approximately 7:45p.m. The Wrestler of the Year is Jeremiah Barkac and Person of the Year is Harry Smith.

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