Bremerton's Salo is homemade talent

Klahowya Secondary School senior athlete Nehemiah Salo poses at the school last week before Eagles lacrosse practice. Salo plays three sports and won a state wrestling title last month. - Mike Baldwin/staff photo
Klahowya Secondary School senior athlete Nehemiah Salo poses at the school last week before Eagles lacrosse practice. Salo plays three sports and won a state wrestling title last month.
— image credit: Mike Baldwin/staff photo

Nehemiah Salo walked the hallways of Klahowya Secondary School Monday, passing trophy cases on his way to lacrosse practice Monday.

In the cases are trophies which bear his name. But Salo, a three-season athlete who is home-schooled by his mother and Running Start student at Olympic College, has never attended class at the school.

“Actually coming here and doing sports is all I really know,” said the senior. “At first, nobody really knew me, but now I think it’s pretty normal.”

It has become typical for a guy who divides his time between two schools and wrestling, football and lacrosse in the evenings. But what isn’t typical is that unlike other students whose lives revolve around long hours on campus, Salo, a devout Christian, is proving that home school kids can contribute as much, if not more, to their home teams. Instead of classmates, he has spent the last 11 years with five sisters and two brothers.

“I missed out on that extra eight hours of social interaction,” Salo said. “I guess the only difference would be that I’m not able to throw it in other peoples’ faces that I’m the big athletic guy on campus.”

Salo started playing sports at Klahowya in the seventh grade, playing football and eventually becoming a running back for the Eagles’ varsity squad. Last month, he won a Class 2A state title at the Mat Classic after missing the first month of the season with a broken arm.

Pauline Salo, who has considerable experience as a teacher, having home schooled the children of friends before she started on her own, keeps the structure of the classes similar to those at any other high school.

Now the Eagles athlete is working on his associate’s degree with an interest in interpersonal communications.

There was a brief period in the 10th grade, he now admits, when he did suspect he was missing out on something, and wanted more contact with other teenagers, more than just the friendships he built with teammates, but Salo has no regrets. He added that he enjoys home school more because the hours are more flexible.

“I’m glad I didn’t push my parents to do it,” he said of switching to public schools. “The structure of the classes just wasn’t for me, and I don’t think I would have enjoyed it.”

Despite years of forgoing the other teenage milestones often taken for granted, like new friendships at the start of each school year, dances and classroom discussions, Salo believes that being home-schooled has strengthened the bond with his family. All eight children were instructed by their mother.

“I’m sure our relationship got a lot stronger than most peoples’ might have,” he added. “I feel like a stronger, better-rounded person because of what my family has done, and you can see that in our interactions together.”

Greg Salo, Nehemiah’s father, decided with his wife to teach their children at home to allow for more one-on-one instruction. Nehemiah Salo has performed well, particularly with wrestling at Klahowya, but his father wanted to make sure the emphasis was on academics.

“We always wanted to focus on his education, but he seems to excel at both,” Greg Salo said. “With him, because he was the middle boy, we wanted him to have a physical outlet so he could leave the house and get away from his sisters for a while.”

Nehemiah Salo is carrying on the family name at Klahowya, even if he doesn’t spend a second of classroom time there. He’s currently sporting his older brother Benjamin Salo’s letterman’s jacket from his basketball and football days with the Eagles.

His first name comes from the Book of Nehemiah. His siblings, Benjamin, Jeremiah, Katharine, Marjorie, Rochelle, Valerie and Abigail also share names with biblical origins.

“Christianity has a pretty significant role in my life,” Nehemiah Salo said. “It’s guided me through my entire life and kept me on the straight and narrow path, keeping me well-behaved.”

He jokes about the difficulty of creating a nickname, but his coaches finally came around to “Nemo” during his first year of lacrosse last season.

Klahowya’s Jim Zimny, Nehemiah Salo’s wrestling coach, described the senior wrestler as a positive and lively kid who didn’t shy away from providing moments of levity during tense practices.

“He was the one who led the Taylor Swift songs,” Zimny added. “He’s the one who’s going to wear the pink knee pads just to be funny. He takes the pressure off and makes the sport fun for everyone, and it’s no surprise he won a state championship.”

It’s been a lifelong dream for Nehemiah Salo to serve in the military. He hopes to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point after he’s completed his Olympic College courses in 2011. He’s currently undecided on a major.

U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, and U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, wrote recommendations for Nehemiah Salo this past year. He will find out between now and May whether he’ll be accepted.

If the academy plans fall through, Nehemiah Salo plans to enroll in a Reserve Officers Training Corps program at Oregon State University next year.

“My family has been very supportive of me,” he said. “I’ve had a great sense of pride with the school and they’ve helped me with that.”

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