Bowling Brook athletes set sights on bigger victories

January 21, 1994|By Bill Free | Bill Free,Staff Writer

They call themselves the Thoroughbreds because their home turf is part of the famous Wyndham Walden 260-acre Bowling Brook horse farm that was once home to seven Preakness winners.

But the only race the 40 boys at Bowling Brook school in Middleburg in Carroll County are running is one they hope will take them back into society.

For many of these repeat offenders in the juvenile justice system, this is their last chance to turn their lives around.

They have been selected by Bowling Brook, a private, juvenile court-operated school for boys 16-18, because they have shown a potential to be helped back into the mainstream of life.

"Since we are a private school, we can pick and choose whom we want here," said Bowling Brook wrestling coach Jim Tavenner. "We are set up to help kids who have made mistakes and are trying to get back into society."

The school has been open four years and is certified by the Maryland Department of Education and is a member of the Association of Independent Maryland Schools.

School officials go to juvenile court referral agencies in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington and Delaware to interview candidates.

The boys selected live at the school for eight to 12 months and are under the guidance of counselors in the dormitories and classrooms. Many of these counselors are former college athletes.

All 40 of the Bowling Brook boys compete in at least one of four sports -- basketball, wrestling, track and cross country.

"If we ascertain a kid can benefit from our academic and athletic program, we take them," said Bowling Brook athletic director Mike Sunday. "We're more concerned about the present than the past."

Tavenner has been at the school 11 months and hopes to establish a solid wrestling program.

In this first wrestling season for Bowling Brook, it already has produced a champion, two second-place finishers and a third-place winner in the recent Quaker Classic at Friends School.

As a team, Bowling Brook was last, but that was primarily because of a lack of lightweight wrestlers. It has no one under 135 pounds and has only 10 wrestlers total.

"I keep telling the school to bring me some 103-pounders," said Tavenner.

That prevented the team from faring too well in a match against Patterson High of Baltimore. It was the only dual match the team could find this season because the wrestling program did not start until the middle of December.

The Thoroughbreds have been invited to three tournaments at Friends School and are looking for more dual matches this

season.

There is some trepidation on the part of schools when they are asked to compete against a school such as Bowling Brook.

But Sunday said the Bowling Brook basketball, track and cross country teams have "blazed a trail" for the fledgling wrestling program.

Those three teams are in their third seasons of competition, and Sunday said the basketball squad has especially played a significant role in gaining the approval of opposing schools and their fans.

"Our basketball team went to Martinsburg, W. Va., for a Christmas tournament this year and we were told we would be invited back," said Sunday.

"Our conduct was superb. Some people thought our kids were better behaved than some of the other schools. We know we have to work hard to gain acceptance because of the perception of what might be. I challenge anybody to question our sportsmanship."

Sunday said Bowling Brook's outstanding behavior at the Martinsburg tournament "helps discard the image that our kids are quitters and losers. We've received a lot of letters from people praising our kids for their good behavior."

However, Sunday realizes his youngsters have to keep on proving themselves.

"If something happens, it is perceived in a certain way if it involves our kids," he said. "But I'd say these kids are some of the most determined youngsters I've ever been around. They're willing to practice long hours at wrestling even though their next meet is a long ways off. They don't need instant gratification."

Bowling Brook is a member of the MSA C Conference in basketball and is seeking a league for its wrestling team.

Tavenner and basketball coach Paul Grier are faced with the same problems in putting together a team.

Most of their athletes have had little formal sports training and have to be taught the fundamentals.

Also, there is no chance to build a dynasty because the boys move on after one season.

Grier, whose team is off to a 7-3 start this season after 12-8 and 12-11 seasons, said his players can learn to run plays quickly but have to be reminded constantly about setting illegal picks.

"They have a tendency to set moving picks," said Grier. "But they love to play defense and are fun to coach. They learn a lot by playing against the coaches and staff members. Sure, they take some bad shots, but they have a tremendous amount of untapped potential.

"We don't play run-and-gun. I let them know about it if they take a bad shot. We only lost by one point to Lutheran, which might be the toughest team in the MSA C Conference. We had a good play set up for the winning basket but the shot didn't go in."

Tavenner talked proudly about the wrestling team's new mat and uniforms and the fact the school has a gym to hold home matches.

"We have a positive culture here," said Tavenner, who also started wrestling at Archbishop Spalding. "I'm proud of this school. I see myself staying here a long time."

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