When Justin Signor stepped on the mats for the Baltimore County Tournament last weekend at Dundalk High, it was as if the 160-pound Franklin High senior was grappling with the strength of two men.

For even as he grieved the passing of his father, Joel, on Feb. 3 at the age of 50 from a more than three-year-long battle with colon cancer, Signor remained focused on keeping the promise he made to his parents and 20-year-old sister, Emily, to carry on.

Joel Signor had “essentially started battling colon cancer in 2019 when Justin started high school,” according to a family friend, Casey Gomes.

“We had suspected this for a long time. I had a ring with my father’s ashes inside of it with me in my bag the majority of the day and during my victories. I usually wear it on a chain around my neck, " said Signor, 18, a returning fourth-place finisher at last year’s counties.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“I had a very important conversation with my father a year prior, and that was when I started preparing myself for when [his passing] would happen. My Dad’s diagnosis wasn’t going to stop me from going into the tournament. I had a year in my mind to prepare for that reality.”

Signor pinned his first round opponent, earned a technical fall in the quarterfinals, and an overtime semifinal victory to reach the championship bout.

Signor finished with a second-period pin over Milford Mill’s sophomore regional runner-up Ethan Royster, improving to 39-4 with 27 pins, a technical fall and three major decisions.

Franklin High senior Justin Signor (facing) pinned Milford Mill's Ethan Royster in the 160-pound championship match of last weekend's Baltimore County Tournament at Dundalk High, doing so in the aftermath of his father, Joel's, passing on Feb. 3 from colon cancer. (Justin and Megan Signor)

“When the time finally came, I wasn’t broken down,” Signor said. “Going in, I was confident that I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from winning this year’s championship.”

Signor enters this weekend’s Class 4A-3A North Regional at Aberdeen as the No. 1 seed in advance of his quest to improve on last year’s third-place regional finish. Seeded No. 2 is senior Nelson Manzoeto (34-2) of Montgomery Blair of Montgomery County, and No. 3 is senior Sorensen Wynn (26-2) of Poly.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

A two-time county champion who was a regional champion and fifth-place Class 4A-3A state finisher, Manzoeto went 41-4 last year at 170 pounds. A two-time Baltimore City Tournament champion who was a regional titlist and placed sixth at last year’s Class 4A-3A state tournament. Wynn was 25-6 last year.

Their presence is yet another challenge to Signor, who has excelled despite suffering a torn ACL during a preseason tournament in 2021 that required surgery in April as well as a shoulder injury last season.

“Justin sustained a shoulder injury wrestled the second half of his junior year with a torn ACL and just missed qualifying for states. It was incredible to me that Justin was recovering from major knee surgery at the same time as his father was undergoing chemo for stage 4 colon cancer,” Gomes said.

“Justin’s initial prognosis from the doctors was that he probably would not be able to come back in time for senior year and would have to start the season late, maybe not at all. Just like his dad, Justin did not care about the prognosis, and committed himself to returning for the start of his senior year. He set the goal of winning counties and qualifying for states.”

Franklin High senior Justin Signor dedicated his 160-pound Baltimore County Tournament championship to his father, Joel, who died of colon cancer on Feb. 3. (Justin and Megan Signor)

Gomes said Joel Signor was similarly resolute, remaining unselfish and altruistic even while enduring his own illness.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“Joel was my best friend. My familiarity with him and his family came through us originally meeting through the Baltimore theater community with our kids. In late 2020, I suffered a herniated disc with spinal contusion and severe sciatic impingement. I could not walk, stand, sit, or really do anything. Even though Joel was in chemo, he texted me and said that we need to get out and start walking,” Gomes said.

“Joel and I walked every week for over two years. He literally rehabilitated me from the most debilitating injury of my life and did so while he was fighting cancer. I still remember the stories he told me about the nurses’ and doctors’ reactions when he told them that he’d walked five miles the day before. Initially they stared at him in disbelief, but eventually, as he described it, they came to just know that was part of who he was. Joel inspired all of us with his quiet strength.”

Joel began in-home hospice in early September after resigning as an engineer and CEO of the Baltimore-based Resco Defense company.

“Joel’s health significantly declined. He could no longer eat because of chronic obstructions in his abdomen. Between my Mom, myself and Justin, we all took care of Joel at home. I made it a point to go to every single one of Justin’s matches this season,” said Megan Signor, Justin’s mother and Joel’s widow.

“I face-timed Joel during a lot of the matches so he could watch it on video and still be there. When I couldn’t be there I had friends that I trusted to care for Joel when I wasn’t there. When Joel couldn’t answer his phone, they would answer his phone for him and show him the videos of Justin wrestling.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

A chief support to Justin Signor is coach Brian Rudo, a 1995 Franklin graduate who placed fourth at counties and regions as a senior.

Rudo honored Justin and Joel last month on Franklin’s senior night for the wrestlers.

“I had a plaque made for his father making him an honorary member of the team for his ability to fight,” said Rudo, a first-year head coach in his 24th season overall. “Joel had been fighting cancer for the entirety of Justin’s career and wasn’t in condition to attend that event, so we did that for Justin and Megan. And as far as the county tournament, Justin knew this was his time to win it.”

Franklin High senior Justin Signor earned the Baltimore County Tournament crown at 160-pounds in wake of his father, Joel's, passing from colon cancer on Feb. 3. "I had a plaque made for [Justin's] father [Joel] making him an honorary member of our team for his ability to fight," said coach Brian Rudo. (Justin and Megan Signor)

Justin’s determination was never more apparent than during his semifinal victory over Sparrow’s Point’s Matt Laubach. Signor escaped in the third overtime period to avenge a 2-0 loss in their battle for third place in the county a year earlier.

“This was my third rematch with Matt Laubach. I had lost to him in JV counties my freshman year, and I lost to him last year, 2-0, for third place,” Signor said. “But I was confident that I had improved enough and that I wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way and stop me from winning the championship this year.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Signor has lost decisions to quality opponents, among them senior third-place Class 2A-1A finishing senior Travis Green (45-0) of Manchester Valley, a regional and two-time Carroll County champion who is ranked No. 1 by the MSWA at 152 pounds.

Signor also lost by decision to regional champion and third-place state finisher Zach Curry of Queen Anne’s, who is ranked ninth overall and third in the Class 2A-1A at 160 by the MSWA.

A third setback for Signor came against fifth-place private schools state placewinning senior Michael Binder (32-5) of Gerstell Academy, who is ranked 13th overall by the MSWA.

But none of those losses matter entering the final two weeks of the season for Justin Signor, who has a message for those enduring difficult situations.

“Just because times are tough, you can’t give up in life,” Signor said. “You can’t quit on everything that’s important in life. I’ve gotta keep going and not give up on anything.”

More From The Banner