Wrestling: Evariste Misseou feels at home with Olentangy Berlin Bears
Evariste Misseou was in the seventh grade, living in a new country and trying to comprehend a new language.
He moved to the United States from Togo in western Africa in November 2015 without knowing how to speak English. Now a senior at Olentangy Berlin, he is a top performer for the wrestling program and credits the sport with helping him learn to feel at home in America.
Competing at 182 pounds, Misseou was 13-7 before the Bears faced Thomas Worthington on Feb. 11. He also had a team-high 39 takedowns.
“I took an interest in middle school when I really didn’t have any friends to speak of,” Misseou said. “It’s very similar to a sport we had back home called ‘evala.’ It’s similar to wrestling except that if any part of your back touches the floor, you lose.
“It reminded me of home, and I like it a lot. It was the first club I joined when I came here. At first I would just overpower kids. I didn’t know any technique at all. I picked up the sport quickly, and I really liked it.”
Misseou originally moved to Omaha, Nebraska, with his father, Anthony Misseou, who now works at Cardinal Health. He only spoke French and “a vernacular called ‘Ewe’,” which is pronounced “Ee-vee.”
“I didn’t understand English when I came here,” Misseou said. “I knew basic things like ‘hello,’ ‘good morning’ and ‘I’m fine.’ Those are the few things I learned in Africa.
“When I first came here, I stayed in the basement and binge-watched movies and TV to learn the language. I put the subtitles on in French and the language was in English. I would read the French subtitles and hear the English. I watched TV shows, movies, cartoons, anything English-related.”
Misseou and his family moved to Ohio before his freshman year, when he attended Centennial. He did not wrestle with the Stars because “I lived too far from the school,” he said.
He then wrestled junior varsity as a sophomore at Hilliard Davidson before moving to Berlin his junior year.
“Wrestling has really helped,” he said. “I’m an outgoing person, but I wasn’t when I came here (to Berlin) because it was my third time switching high schools. I didn’t want to talk to people.
“Sometimes people are scared of me. I guess I have a mean face or something. When I came here last year ... I just walked and minded my own business. I didn’t really talk to anybody.”
Coach Josh Heffernan doesn’t believe Misseou has a “mean face.” All he has witnessed is a warm smile that lights up any room.
“Evariste is one of these kids with a magnetic personality,” Heffernan said. “He’s funny and charismatic. You’re simply impressed when you hear his story. It’s something the way he figured things out and how well-adjusted he is.
“He really enjoys being a part of the team, and I think he kind of needs it. Last year was his first year on the team, and he’s become everyone’s best friend. That’s what you want as a coach.”
Misseou even went out for football last fall, playing defensive end and special teams. He finished with nine tackles, all solo.
“At first my parents were against it because of concussions, but I told them that I was wrestling all of this time and never got a concussion,” he said. “Plus, I told them that it would help me with wrestling, so my dad said I could play my senior year.
“In football, you have to run through your opponent or you will get run through, and that helped me this year in wrestling. Last year, I was a bit hesitant because I didn’t want to injure people. My first tournament last year, I broke a kid’s leg. I didn’t want to injure anyone when I wrestled so I wasn’t as aggressive last year.”
Heffernan said Misseou is a raw talent who might excel should he continue the sport at the collegiate level.
“Evariste has raw athleticism and talent,” Heffernan said. “He has athleticism and strength that are off the chart, and he’s only been doing this for a few years.
“He would have really blossomed even more this year if he would have gone through an offseason with freestyle and Greco-Roman tournaments. That was shut down by (the) COVID(-19 coronavirus pandemic).”
Misseou would like to wrestle in college if the situation is right. He has looked into Defiance, John Carroll, Marietta and Rio Grande, among others.
“Ideally I want to wrestle in college, but I’ll go where I get the most scholarship money,” said Misseou, who would like to major in computer science or engineering.
The Bears compete in a Division I sectional Feb. 27 at Newark. Last season, Misseou was a district alternate at 182, placing fifth at sectional to finish 19-15.
He said Heffernan and the coaching staff have helped him navigate high school on and off the mat.
“Coach has taught me a lot, not just about wrestling but life,” Misseou said. “He’s like a second father figure to me.
“Wrestling has been a safe environment with my teammates and coaches. You just have a good time beating up on other people.”