Wrestling's got a hold on students


June 05, 1993|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

HAGERSTOWN -- Fred Dillon Jr. holds down a humdrum job. $$ He considers himself a bit player on life's backstage.

But he has a dream:

He paints thunderbolts across his face. He crams his thick thighs and broad belly into slinky tights.

Lights dim. Rock music blares. A spotlight flashes like lightning as he strides into the arena, into the embrace of fans screaming not for Fred Dillon Jr., asphalt-plant worker, but for J. D. Thunder, provocative professional wrestler.

Mr. Dillon, 25, pursues his dream of career transformation the way many unfulfilled employees do: He goes to night school.

What sets him and a handful of other burly young men apart is that they are students at Neil "The Power" Superior's professional wrestling school in Hagerstown.

"In a month I'll be in a ring wrestling just like Hulk Hogan or the Ultimate Warrior," says Mr. Dillon. "This is my lifelong dream."

So the aspiring J. D. Thunder drives 70 miles from his hometown of Front Royal, Va., on Mondays and Thursdays after work to get thrown down, beaten up and darn-near beheaded by Neil "The Power" Superior.

Mr. Superior, who is something of a celebrity in Hagerstown, hands you the December 1992 issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated that contains the latest rankings.

"Here are the top 500 wrestlers in America -- just to let you know where I stand," he says in a voice softer than you might expect. "No. 149. . . . I don't have to tell you how great I am. The name says it all. Superior."

Actually, the name's Caricofe. It became Superior in 1989 when this standout amateur wrestler made his professional debut at his alma mater, North Hagerstown High School.

He has won two regional championship belts. He has yet to reach wrestling's top rung, but he's grappled with the likes of Cactus Jack, Larry BY, the Honky Tonk Man and Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff.

'Smooth and scientific'

Mr. Superior, 29, is 6 feet 4 inches and 267 pounds -- "smooth and scientific, but enjoys a fight as well," says the wrestling magazine.

"If you're going to take pictures," he says to the photographer, "I'm going to take my shirt off, because I'm good-looking."

He opened his school in November after deciding to take a break from the rigors of touring. He signed an 18-month lease for the former basement office of the Motor Vehicle Administration, set up a regulation-size ring and recruited students.

He had four in his first class, which "graduated" in March. And he has four in the current class. Tuition is $1,750, paid on the installment plan.

The ring looms in one corner; it's imposing in this small room. Posters of past wrestling matches hang on the walls. It's clean and bright.

"People are under a lot of misconceptions," Mr. Superior says, motioning toward the ring. "They think the floor is a trampoline, but it's about as hard as my desk. They think the ropes are foam cushion, but they're steel cable wrapped in tape.

"It takes about a month for your body to get used to that thing. All my new students are black and blue."

He calls over Mr. Dillon and asks what happens if you don't fall correctly on the mat. "Demerol headache," Mr. Dillon says.

It seems that Mr. Dillon, about a month into the school, took a shoulder in the chest from Mr. Superior and crashed onto the firm canvas. Instead of tucking his head forward, he let it snap back against the mat.

A few days later he walked out of his doctor's office with a prescription for Demerol.

"I really couldn't believe it," Mr. Dillon says. "I know it sounds silly, but I've got a hard head. I've rammed it into stop signs and doors, all kinds of stuff. It didn't bother me."

Mr. Dillon recalls that one of the first assignments in school was to stand in the ring, kick your feet out from under you and collapse onto the mat on your back. And then to do it again and again.

Learning to fall

The idea is to learn how to fall, because in professional wrestling you get knocked down all the time.

A visitor may ask: Isn't it all fake? Don't you know who's going to win?

You get a variety of answers from the sweat-soaked wrestlers, most evasive, a few direct, such as this from Shane Heinberger, 21, currently unemployed and living just outside Boonsboro in Washington County:

"Everyone's got the mouth, but nobody's got the action. If you think you can step into the ring and take me out, I'm here two nights a week. Come on down and try."

Mr. Heinberger, whose ring name is Shane Shadows, has certainly got the mouth. He was one of Mr. Superior's first students.

He wrestled at Baltimore's Patterson Park during Preakness Week.

"They were calling me names and throwing ice at me before I even got into the ring," he says. "I guess it's just the way I look, or the way I carry myself. I'm kind of a brat, kind of obnoxious.

"So I took the microphone and had a few choice words for them. I said: 'I have a question for you people.' Pause. 'What is the difference between Baltimore women and trash?' Pause. 'People will at least pick up trash.' "

The crowd howled and booed.

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