Sloboda takes down cancer
9-year-old Butler elementary wrestler helps raise $1,500 for research

By John Enrietto
Eagle Sports Editor

BUTLER TWP — Santino Sloboda recognizes the importance of winning — because he's not winning for himself.
The 9-year-old is winning for the fight against cancer.
A Butler elementary youth wrestler since he was 5, Santino is entering his third year as part of the nationwide Pin Cancer program. He raised $1,500 for cancer research over the past two years and has already raised $209 this year.
“This is something he just wanted to do,” Belinda Sloboda, Santino's mother, said. “Cancer hits home for him. I learned about this program and told him about it.
“It was his decision to get a web page created and follow through on the fund-raising.”
The Pin Cancer program was formed in 2011 by wrestler Dan Tramontozzi, whose mother has battled Stage 3 ovarian cancer. Olympic gold medalist Kendall Cross and numerous NCAA mat champions openly support the program.
Wrestlers create a web page for cancer awareness and as an avenue for friends and family to donate to the cause.
In Santino's case, he also collects a set donation from various people for each win he accumulates on the mat.
“About 15 people donate every time I win,” Santino said. “I know it's important. I do my best.
“Every time I win, I know I've earned more money for a good thing.”
Santino's goal this year is to raise $700, “but that may go up,” he said. He is fifth on the national leaderboard for Pin Cancer individual wrestlers in terms of money raised so far in the 2016-17 season.
“When I saw that football player (Pitt running back James Conner) get cancer, I wanted to help,” Santino said. “That just shouldn't happen.”
Mrs. Sloboda said that “it surprised him when he saw a vibrant young athlete diagnosed with the disease ... It made him realize how serious it is.”
Santino wrestles from October through mid-March. He competes in the 10-under, 60-pound category and his parents take him to tournaments throughout the region. He wins approximately 60 matches a year.
He also belongs to a wrestling club in Evans City, where he practices with youth wrestlers from Seneca Valley, North Allegheny, Pine-Richland and other surrounding schools.
“Santino had a lot of aggressive energy as a little boy and we wanted to channel that in a positive way,” Mrs. Sloboda. “At first, when he saw how intense wrestling was, he didn't want any part of it.
“We took him to a summer camp where he could experience the sport. Now he loves it.”
Butler High School coach Scott Stoner hopes to extend Santino's participation in Pin Cancer to other wrestlers in the community, youth and high school.
“I didn't even know he was doing this,” Stoner said. “I know Santino is an up and comer. He's a physical little guy who loves the sport and his parents really support him with it.
“Just like I waited on guys like Cole Baxter and Christian Sequete to get up here, I'm waiting on him. It's awesome that he's using wrestling to join such a good cause. I'm going to take his cue and learn more about this.”
In the meantime, Santino Sloboda will continue his fight.
“As long as I'm a wrestler, I'll fight cancer, too,” he said.