The 2020 season was one of trials and tribulations for Overbrook High School wrestler Daishawn Tilghman. A senior, Tilghman lost his first match early in the 2020 PIAA 3A regional tournament, which was held in the Lehigh Valley on Feb. 28 and 29. It could have been his last tournament.
He was nearly disqualified in the first round for locking his hands while on top of his opponent, a technical violation experienced wrestlers don’t typically make. The first three violations in a match result in warnings, but the fourth results in a wrestler’s disqualification.
Dan Altomare, Tilghman’s mentor, was in attendance at the tournament.
“It’s unheard of,” Altomare said. “It’s not something that an experienced wrestler does, let alone a kid who’s ranked in the state of PA. He wrestled the worst match he’s ever wrestled. He was in his own head and when he lost, I think he felt like he was done.”
Despite the early loss, Tilghman continued to wrestle through the tournament, earning his first-ever appearance in the PIAA State Wrestling Championship, held March 5-7 in Hershey.
“If I didn’t go to state, I would have looked at myself as a fluke,” Tilghman said. “It would have always hung over my head.”
Tilghman began wrestling in the sixth grade, but two years later found mentoring in the Beat the Streets Philadelphia program as an eighth-grader. The program, founded in Camden, New Jersey in 2009, serves more than 1,100 wrestlers, from kindergarten to high school, at branches located in Camden and Gloucester in New Jersey, as well as Allentown and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.
Altomare has seen Tilghman grow through the wrestling and mentoring program. Altomare began mentoring at the Center City branch of Beat the Streets as a volunteer while at Temple University as a way to stay engaged with the Philadelphia wrestling community. He later returned, accepting the full-time position of wrestling director.
“When I started volunteering, again, I was mostly the guy who was supervising the mentoring center at night,” Altomare said. “So I saw [Tilghman] just about every day for his eighth-grade year.”
With the mentoring he received there, as well as at school, Tilghman became the star wrestler for Overbrook High School. In wrestling all four years for the Panthers, he qualified for the regional tournament each year, but 2020 was the first time he made it to the state championship. Tilghman posted his best record this season, going 34-5 in competition and finishing his high school career with a 107-30 record.
A student at Mastery Charter’s Shoemaker campus, Tilghman commutes 40 minutes each day to wrestle for Overbrook. Since Mastery Charter — Shoemaker does not have a wrestling team, Overbrook coach Robert Morris gave Tilghman a spot on the Overbrook team his freshman year so he’d have a place to continue to wrestle after middle school, Tilghman said.
Tilghman considers his wrestling success as a path to free education. He will be wrestling at Bloomsburg University on scholarship next year, but also received scholarship offers from several other schools, including Ferrum College, and Plymouth State University.
“Without wrestling, I wouldn’t get into a lot of schools that I got accepted to,” Tilghman said. “It would be hard to get into schools.”
Throughout high school, wrestling gave Tilghman something to focus on so he could stay out of trouble and lead a positive and healthy life, he said.
“We wished we would have something we could escape with,” said Angel Garcia, Tilghman’s close friend and fellow Beat the Streets wrestler.
Tilghman also credits his success to his teammates and friends he’s met through Beat the Streets. Garcia, a senior at Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter, has been a close friend of Tilghman’s ever since they first met at Belmont Charter School when they were around 12 years old.
A part of Beat the Streets since seventh grade, Garcia said the organization offered him and Tilghman a place to feel safe, focus on their school work and becoming better athletes.
“I was following the wrong footsteps that led me to sell drugs and get involved in gangs,” Garcia said. “When I figured I was in a dangerous position, I had to find a way to escape from it.”
The pair traveled together to a national tournament in Fargo, North Dakota in July 2019, where Garcia won the national championship. Beat the Streets helped pay the travel costs for the tournament.
This season, Altomare was with Tilghman every step of the way, communicating with him about life and how to have better performances on the mat. Altomare was there when Tilghman lost his first match at the regional tournament and was there to give him the advice he needed to make the comeback that helped him earn his spot in states.
“We were able to kind of talk to him that night, even though he seemed kind of inconsolable,” Altomare said. “The next day, he came back and he pinned his way through the consolation brackets. And he ended up beating the kid that he lost to in the first round to take third place and qualify for the state tournament! It was a really cool weekend. I was really happy for him.”
Being able to watch Tilghman achieve his potential this season has been a real point of pride, Altomare said.
“I think I’ve known all along what he’s capable of and people around him have known what he’s capable of,” Altomare said. “The biggest opponent he’s had the last four years has been himself, and so, to kind of see him get over that hump and figure it out was really, really special.”
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