Wrestler's transfer strikes nerve Harding makes move to McDonogh

August 19, 1993|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Staff Writer

To Martius Harding's mother, Stephanie Mack, his Aug. 3 transfer to McDonogh "was an academic move" for an "A" student no longer challenged by Dunbar's advanced level health curriculum.

But Dunbar wrestling coach Damon Matthews said McDonogh "recruited away" the city's highest-placing state tournament wrestler and its best potential state champ.

Harding's scholarship covers 97.5 percent of his educational expenses. He stays in a campus dormitory and began practicing TC with the Eagle football team Sunday.

But some friends are unsupportive of his decision.

"I think it's wrong. I think they'll just use him," said Dunbar city wrestling champion Bruce Pendles. "He wasn't anything until he came to Dunbar, and he could have done all right staying there. I'm not going to associate with anyone from McDonogh anymore."

Mack, who will continue to serve Dunbar's parent workshop, said the transfer "had nothing to do with wrestling championships."

She called Matthews Tuesday afternoon to "say it was nothing personal. That he should be proud of what he's done with Martius."

Matthews said, "It was a crushing blow because I built this kid from when he knew nothing about wrestling. I wish him the best, but I still say he was recruited, and I'm not mentioning any names."

McDonogh athletic director and wrestling coach Frank Antonelli said he barely knew Harding before a wrestler's parent, Ron Plienis, took an application to Harding's house and returned it to McDonogh the next day.

"I did it because McDonogh's great for making him a doctor," said Plienis.

Last winter, Harding excelled on the mats, leading the Poets to city-best eighth place in the 70-team, 2A state tournament and finishing second at 160 pounds.

He was second also in the Baltimore City and Maryland Scholastic Association tournaments after going just 10-9 as a freshman. Harding ended the year ranked No. 6 by the Maryland State Wrestling Association.

But Harding, 16, cited academic reasons for the late summer transfer from Dunbar, where he maintained an "A" average in the "A" course curriculum -- the penultimate in its health occupation program.

Having satisfied McDonogh's entry requirements -- including three standard tests -- in June, Harding received an Aug. 3 congratulatory letter from Sharon Boston of the admissions office.

"The parent never talked to me, so I was not privy to her concerns," said Dunbar's Charlotte Brown, who recently completed her first year as principal.

"We're working to enhance our student-athlete program. I'm not saying that it wasn't satisfactory -- it was fine and in place when I came here. But improvements are made with change, and you can't be complacent."

Mack said her son's father, Gregory Harding, has been "incarcerated for 12 years of Martius' life." She raised Harding while Gregory's brother, Steven Tucker, served as his role model, having graduated from McDonogh and succeeding as a doctor at Good Samaritan Hospital.

"I want a career in surgery, so that's why I initially chose Dunbar," said Harding, a junior, who also considered Calvert Hall, Poly and City before his freshman year.

A graduate of Chinquapin Middle, Harding said he was convinced to attend Dunbar after a visit from a school counselor.

"She said the 'A' course they have was supposed to be tougher," Harding said. "But in most of my classes, I ended up finishing my work early and helping the other students, which I don't mind. I just felt unchallenged."

During the summer, he trained with the Northwest Wrestling Club, which competes out of McDonogh under director Cornell Bass, a varsity assistant at McDonogh.

Bass said Mack approached him in June about McDonogh and other private schools, including Calvert Hall, Peddie (N.J.), Blair Academy (N.J.) and Blue Ridge (W.Va.).

"I wanted to be neutral because I had ties with Dunbar and McDonogh, but she was adamant, so I said 'keep him close,' " Bass said.

"Martius was concerned hearing from people in the Dunbar community, that he wasn't helping his city brothers. I said why help them at your own expense now when you can be better prepared to help them later on."

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