With a father who wrestled and a mother who was a gymnast, Al Kohlhafer has spent much of his life around the mats.
"My father, Ben, wrestled for clubs in the late 1920s, when there weren't many college teams. My brother, Dick, wrestled for the University of Baltimore andthe Army," said the 18th-year Northeast coach.
"I remember when I was 5, going home, clearing away the furnitureand working moves on the living room floor with my father."
UnderKohlhafer, 47, a former wrestler at Baltimore's Poly High and the University of Baltimore, Northeast won the county's first state championship in 1976.
Northeast has also won three county and three regional crowns, with four individual state champions since the 1969 arrival of Kohlhafer, who assisted then-coach Bart Rader for a year and later took a three-year sabbatical.
Of the county's active coaches, only Arundel's Buddy Hepfer, in his 21st season, has been at the helmlonger.
Old Mill coach Mike Hampe (162-22-3) has been coaching one year less than Kohlhafer, but has produced 13 individual state champs, won seven county and seven regional titles, nine league crowns and three straight Class 4A/3A state titles.
At 99-100 for his career, Kohlhafer's chance to surpass the century mark in victories won't come until a Jan. 7 tri-meet with Archbishop Spalding and Glen Burnie.
"If wins and losses were all that mattered, I'd have quit or been fired a long time ago," said Kohlhafer.
"Fortunately, my wife, Donna, is very understanding. I just think wrestling is the greatest sport in the world."
Brothers Bob and Rick Couch, two of Kohlhafer's former pupils, have recently started to reimburse him for his yearsof dedication. It is through them that Kohlhafer has obtained top prospects from the Riviera Beach-based Buccaneers junior league program.
"Ask a kid from Millersville's junior league program what his future plans are, and I bet he'll say, 'Well, I want to wrestle for OldMill.' " said Kohlhafer. "That's what I'd like to accomplish here, and I think we can."
For years, Buccaneers graduates headed to perennial Maryland Scholastic Association power Mount St. Joseph, thanks to former coach Tim Haney, a graduate of the Baltimore private school.
But three years ago the Couch brothers, Frank Linton and Mike Wilbourne began coaching the Buccaneers.
"They opened things up between us," said Kohlhafer.
"I attended their meetings, and we started tournaments here at Northeast where the Bucs can wrestle, and open gym nights where everybody can come to work out in the off-season.
"The two programs are growing, and that's helped Northeast tremendously," said Kohlhafer.
The Eagles' newest additions, twins Marty (103) and Mike (112) Kusick, and Mount St. Joseph transfer Steve Smiddy(119) are products of the Buccaneers' program, where all three were state champions. So far, the trio has a combined 24-0 record.
"People say these guys are young," said Chuck Yocum, an assistant coach along with Old Mill graduate Bill Royer. "They don't have a lot of experience wrestling on the high school level, but really, these guys have been wrestling forever."
If things goes as expected, all but one wrestler from this year's squad, which at 2-2 has equaled last year's win total, should be back next year.
The sophomores are Matt Jewer (125), Nick Patras (130), Jason Grunder (140, 3-3-1 record), BillKatzenberger (145, 4-2) and Ken Fowler (189).
The juniors are Jason Farinelli (135), Al Grunder (152, 7-3), Jeremy Funk (160) and Pat Rucker (171).
Freshman heavyweight Dan Defenbaugh will move up from the junior varsity. Meanwhile, two highly touted junior leaguers, Dale Bowers (85) and Chris Morrow (122), expect to bolster a sturdy lineup.
"He's got a real good future with those kids," said Broadneck coach John Mayberry, whose Bruins were state champs four years ago.
"Plus, Jewer and the Grunders will develop. If his team isn't theone to beat next year, or the year after, they'll be right up there."
Northeast already has improved. In the season-opening 34-31 win over Wilde Lake, the Eagles beat a Howard County title contender.
Next was their fourth-place finish at last weekend's Chesapeake Tournament, behind Mount St. Joseph, the host Cougars and Frederick. Titles by Smiddy and the Kusicks paced the Eagles to 104 points.
"We haven't done that well in a long time, in any tournament," said Kohlhafer, whose Eagles will compete in next weekend's Arundel holiday tournament.
Kohlhafer is optimistic about the future.
"We may not beat Broadneck, Old Mill or Annapolis, but we can make them earn their wins," Kohlhafer said.
"We've got more of a chance with Meade, Glen Burnie, North County or Severna Park. Our junior varsity beat SouthRiver and Southern, so we can't wait until next year."