Bauerlein and his wrestling teams: a perfect match 'Great communicator' shows how to win -- on mats and in life

December 21, 1992|By Bill Free | Bill Free,Staff Writer

The six-page letter came from a former heavyweight wrestler who was down and out in West Virginia.

Brian Keaton's house had just burned down and he had broken up with his girlfriend.

At this low point in his life, Keaton sat down and let the thankful words flow to North Carroll wrestling coach Dick Bauerlein.

"I wondered who was writing me a six-page letter," said Bauerlein who is something of a coaching legend with a 207-20 dual-match record in 18 years at North Carroll. "Brian [who wrestled at North Carroll for Bauerlein six years ago] referred to me as 'a great communicator and teacher.' It really touched me. You never know how much effect you have on these kids."

Assistant wrestling coach Tom Davidson said Bauerlein proudly

walked around school with the letter for a few days.

"Dick was clinging to the letter and talking about it," said Davidson. "It seemed to mean more to him than any match or tournament we've ever won."

Bauerlein explained: "First of all, I want to make every wrestler a better person when they leave here and go out into the world. They're going to be around here anyway and I'll be dealing with them in the business world."

So much for the image of Bauerlein as a veteran coach who is driven to win a state wrestling championship after three second-place finishes and will give up and retire soon if he doesn't get the brass ring.

In truth, Bauerlein, 52, has hinted at retirement because he wants more time to pursue his lifelong love of hunting and fishing, and he wants to spend more time with his wife, Vicki, who has been diagnosed with lupus, a progressive disease that affects the joints.

"I have not set a goal to win a state championship," said Bauerlein. "I know some people won't believe it but I want to win dual meets more than tournaments. I believe in the team concept and have proposed to the state that we have a dual-meet state championship. It's supposed to be added for the 1993-1994 season. We'll still have the state tournaments."

Bauerlein said Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Delaware and Michigan already have state dual-match wrestling championships. He said Pennsylvania conducts a dual-match tournament at the district level.

"It will be a real boon for wrestling in the state," said Bauerlein. "Fans don't want to come and watch one guy from their school wrestle and then wait a couple of hours to see another one. They want to follow a team."

The successful North Carroll coach, who never wrestled himself, has guided his team to a top-five finish in the last nine state tournaments, gaining the respect of the state's wrestling fraternity.

But he choses not to get caught up in personal glory for himself or his wrestlers.

Bauerlein prefers to talk about youngsters such as Kenny Hopkins who was never quite good enough to wrestle in regular meets but got a chance to participate in a few pre-match exhibitions.

"I'll never forget how Kenny Hopkins jumped around in total happiness after he won his first exhibition," Bauerlein said. "To me, that is what coaching is all about. Making sure every kid

gets a chance to participate and get the most out of his ability."

The graduate of North Carroll High and former football and baseball player at Shepherd College gives a lot of credit for his wrestling success to former Westminster Junior High principal Victor J. Mahovitch, who asked Bauerlein to start the wrestling program at the school 30 years ago.

"And my five assistants over the years [Davidson, Carroll Seiler, Steve Shepler, Cary Kyle and Sam Brutout] have been major reasons for my success," he said.

The Bauerlein way is the model for high school sports. He has won, gotten everybody involved and avoided disciplinary problems with a no-nonsense approach.

But since Bauerlein has had so much success and been a close second three times in the states, there are questions about when he will climb the final hurdle.

"If we win it, it would be great," he said. "We've been so close to winning that it's unbelievable. Especially in the 1988-1989 season when we finished second to Old Mill by one point."

That was the year in which an incredible turn of events took the title away from North Carroll.

"I'm not taking anything away from Old Mill," said Bauerlein. "But everything they needed to happen in the tourney, happened for them. We were so close to winning once [when Panthers heavyweight Billy Ferencz nearly pinned Glen Burnie's Byron Davis early in the first round] that I even turned away from the mat and said 'Thank God.' "

All Ferencz needed was a superior win to clinch the state championship but he wound up with a regular decision.

There were three other stunning developments that cost the Panthers:

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