Sometimes it seems the only person who can knock Walter Reed off the wrestling mat is Walter Reed himself.
"Potentially," said Southwestern athletic director Dave Lang, "Walter is the best wrestler to come out of this area since Rico Chiapparelli." Lang saw Reed lose but once as a Southwestern freshman and sophomore, winning consecutive MSA 155-pound championships.
But Reed's journey to his current No. 1 ranking at 189 pounds by the Maryland State Wrestling Association hasn't been a smooth one. Now, after two school transfers, long periods of ineligibility and time on the street as a dropout, he's back, wrestling well for the Sabers and looking to graduate.
"He's an uncanny wrestler," said Bernie Leneau, in his second year as Southwestern's wrestling coach. "He naturally knows how to shift his weight and his body. He knows how to compensate for what you fail to do."
Three years ago, faced with numerous academic ineligibilities, Southwestern dropped wrestling. So that their talented son could continue to wrestle, Reed's parents left the house they own in the city and took an apartment in Woodlawn. Walter, however, never wrestled during his junior year.
"I wasn't paying attention to my grades," he admitted.
He wrestled at 189 pounds for Woodlawn through December of his senior year, never losing on the mat, but in the classroom. His eligibility was gone again and, shortly after, so was Walter from school.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know why I left," he said.
He got a taste of the working world in his father's pest control business and on the street, but it wasn't very satisfying. "There wasn't anything on the streets for me," he said, "but trouble."
Over the summer he decided to return to Southwestern, which had reinstated its wrestling program under Leneau. "When I wasn't going to school, I missed school a little bit but I missed wrestling. And I wanted my diploma," he said.
Needing just three credits to graduate, Reed attends classes in the morning and works in his father's business during the afternoon, returning to school for practice. And practice, for the talented Reed, is a little different than for most wrestlers.
"He hasn't reached his potential yet," said Leneau. "He doesn't put it all out in practice because it's hard to find competition. In practice, it's almost like frustration. Practice is for him to lose weight and get in shape. We work on takedowns because we can't hold him down on the mat. He's a pleasure to work with in the room. He'll go over and show the younger kids a move if asked."
Not that Reed, an Evening Sun All-Metro honorable mention as a freshman and first team selection as a sophomore, has found much competition in his matches, either. This year he's won the Dundalk, Loch Raven and Chesapeake tournaments, and helped the Sabers to a 3-0 MSA B Conference record after yesterday's 49-16 victory over Edmondson.
He's pinned 16 of his 18 opponents thus far. Only Overlea's John Swigart, the third-ranked heavyweight, and Linganore's Chris Butler have survived to lose by decision. And Butler, then ranked No. 1 at 189 pounds, lost 16-6.
Wrestling, which he started at age 5 in junior leagues, has helped Reed's self-esteem -- "I like winning," he said -- and provided the impetus for him to leave the streets.
"He came to me one day," said his father, Walter Reed Sr., "and said he was back in school. He did it all on his own."