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From Liberia, Kenwood's Nyonbou 'Boo' Farley wrestling for his future

Three banners hang from the wall in the wrestling room at Kenwood.

One lists the school's state champions, another honors the school's Baltimore County champions and a third commemorates a junior varsity county championship.

At first, that third banner embarrassed Nyonbou "Boo" Farley. He doesn't like to call attention to himself. But two years later, he knows how much it means.

After finishing second in the Baltimore County championships last week, Farley's 30-2 record in the 160-pound weight class earned him the top seed in this weekend's Class 4A-3A North regional tournament with a chance to earn a berth in the state championship on March 1-2 at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House.

But wrestling is only part of the story.

Farley, 18, came to the United States as a refugee from Liberia right before his freshman year.

Since then, he has developed into one of the most dominant wrestlers in the county, and he has also transformed as a person.

"I wake up every morning just to come to school," Farley said. "I can't explain how great it is. I'm really happy to be at this school. My teachers are always willing to help me. Everyone's willing to help me."

In Liberia, Farley worked on a farm with his parents before moving in with his grandmother in a city to receive an education. But his family could not come up with the money to enroll him in school, so Farley lived off refugee aid from the United Nations until he had the opportunity to move to the United States.

"I was blessed to come here," he said. "For me to be the one who got to come here, I still don't understand why. But I try not to question God."

Farley had to take time off from school to learn English before he could enroll at Kenwood. When he finally started taking classes, his heavy accent made it hard to adjust.

"The first day of school was embarrassing," he said. "I was made fun of for my accent. It wasn't a pleasant day."

Eventually, Farley heard about a meeting for the wrestling team.

After talking with Bluebirds coach John Cooper, he decided it was something he wanted to do and joined the team. But the coach noticed something strange during the first week of practice.

"First time he ever wrestled here, he used to wear dress clothes every day," Cooper said. "He had dress shoes, and slacks and a dress shirt. And I don't think he had tennis shoes. He's leaving the school with his book bag and a very slim jacket. It's winter time, and he's running down the main drag of the school and up the street."

Cooper assumed Farley lived in the neighborhood near the school, but the student actually ran five miles to his house every day.

"That's when we started assisting more and more with him and getting him rides and making sure he got to where he was," Cooper said. "The kid had all the cards in the world stacked against him. And, he'll tell you, it's a blessing."

Now a junior, Farley takes Advanced Placement courses, is on the honor roll and is part of Kenwood's Sports Science Academy, a magnet program that attracts students interested in sports-related careers.

With his success on the mat and in the classroom, Farley hopes to achieve something he never previously thought possible — attending college.

"I have two schools in mind: McDaniel and West Virginia," Farley said. "But it doesn't matter what college I go to. I just want a full ride to be able to go to college. Be the first one in my family to graduate college and high school. That's my goal."

Farley says he cannot afford college without a full scholarship, a fact that drives him to improve as a wrestler. What started as a way to cope with his past is now Farley's ticket to something better.

"My mentality is way different. I'm wrestling to get a scholarship," Farley said. "There were so many things going on that I took with me to the mat and it didn't go well. My coach taught me to learn to separate my home situation from my professional situation, and that's what I did this year."

Perhaps Farley's greatest trait is his drive to help others. Despite having little to eat, he will routinely show up to school with a pillowcase full of canned goods he collected from his neighbors to donate.

"He's willing to help out kids whenever they need help," Kenwood assistant principal Allison Seymour said. "He's never looking for someone to help him."

Regardless of what happens with wrestling, Farley's coaches believe he has the work ethic to succeed in anything he does.

"The world is open to Boo with what he's done to this point," Cooper said. "But I look back and say, 'What if he would have came to America when he was 5? What kind of wrestler would he have been then?'

"I couldn't even imagine."

bpaxton@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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