Fathers Know Best

January 24, 1994|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Staff Writer

Southern-Anne Arundel wrestler Tyrone Neal Jr. was about to take the mat against his opponent from Mount St. Joseph in the title bout of the Annapolis Tournament.

While the opponent approached mat center, Tyrone Neal Sr. -- Southern's coach -- insisted on completing the pre-bout ritual that is customary between him and his son.

"I put my arms around him, whisper a couple of things in his ear, and send him out there," said Tyrone Sr.

"He tells me, 'You know what this guy likes to do, so don't get caught,' " recalled Tyrone Jr., a sophomore. "He also tells me he loves me, which makes me want to win even more."

Rob White of St. Mary's also coaches his son, Josh, a freshman 130- and 135-pound wrestler. He recalls once hearing about Josh being knocked out cold in a bout in a New Jersey tournament.

"Josh's a tough kid, and I know he has a high tolerance for pain," said Rob White, who was not present at that tournament. "But sometimes, the roles of coach and father are hard to separate. You just have some definite concerns."

As wrestlers whose fathers are also their coaches, Tyrone Neal Jr. and Josh White agree: Your father can be your best friend, but he can also be your worst critic.

"From talking to some other kids whose fathers were their coaches, I thought it was going to be pretty easy -- but if anything, he's tougher on me than the other guys on the team," said White, whose father replaced Brad Best at St. Mary's this year.

Unlike Rob, who has played and coached other sports but never has wrestled, Tyrone Sr. was a two-time state champ at Southern -- where Tyrone Jr. now wrestles at 125.

"He always keeps my mind on wrestling, lifting weights, eating right," said Tyrone Jr., who is ranked No. 2 by the Maryland State Wrestling Association.

Both wrestlers are excellent students -- White has an A average, Neal a B average. And each is among the area's most talked-about underclassmen on the mats.

White is 18-4, with nine pins, including falls in his last eight matches. He won a title at the Boys' Latin Tournament and was a runner-up to Mount St. Joseph's top-ranked David Inkman at the Annapolis Tournament.

Neal (12-0, five pins) won the Annapolis Tournament, beating Mount St. Joseph's fifth-ranked Russell Fecteau in the title bout.

And each wrestler, in part, attributes his success to his father.

"He's hard on me, but not too hard. And I definitely want to accomplish the things that he's done. Without a goal, you'd just be doing it for no reason," Tyrone Jr. said.

"Dad's a great motivator," Josh said. "It's his first season coaching wrestling, so his skills will come. But he seems to care about every guy on the team just as much as me."

Both Rob White and Tyrone Neal Sr. were highly successful athletes in their youth. They remain in excellent physical shape. White, 40, stands 6 feet 1 and a sturdy 215 pounds, and Neal, 41, is 6-0, 185.

Neal Sr. graduated from Southern in 1971 after a brilliant high school wrestling career. He went on to be a two-time National Junior College champ at Montgomery College (Rockville) and a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference champ at the University of Maryland.

White, 40, lettered in football, basketball and lacrosse at Boys' Latin and graduated from Salisbury State College. White, whose three-sport coaching career spans 18 years, also is in the Army Reserves in Special Forces.

Despite all of their accomplishments, however, each agrees that coaching his son is among the toughest tasks he has taken on.

Even after the experience of coaching his older son, Sherrard, who is now at Navy's Prep school, Tyrone Sr. said the overlap between the roles he plays is never easy to overcome.

"Being a coach and a father are two things that are difficult to separate -- it's like trying to take all the milk out of butter," Neal said. "We lift weights here at home, and we're always going over the little things. I try not to ruin the fun for him, but sometimes, it's an ego thing."

Though White sometimes leaves disciplining his son to his assistants, Kevin Donnelly and Mike Stringfellow, he and Josh still have to go home together.

"Obviously Josh knows more about the sport than I do, so I try to allocate him to the assistants as often as possible. I try to see myself more as the administrator of the program," said White, who is the director of admissions at St. Mary's.

"My wife, Kathy, always tells me to try to leave the wrestling at school, and I try to treat him like the others on the team. But if anything, I guess I can be a little tougher to the point of being a nag."

Tyrone Sr. has had similar experiences.

"Other kids can run to their parents when the coach is tough on them, so Tyrone sometimes runs to his mother, Cynthia," Neal said. "Inevitably, wrestling can become a dinner-table discussion."

Tyrone Neal Jr. was a wrestler with Mayo Post in Anne Arundel County and Josh White was wrestling for Navy's nearby junior-league program when they competed against each other for the first time as 7-year-olds.

Both were in tears throughout the match, seeking comfort from their parents afterward.

"I remember they kept having to stop the match because neither one of us wanted to continue," said White.

White never has beaten Neal in their numerous encounters since, but Neal gives plenty of credit to White for hanging in there.

"The last time we wrestled was three years ago in the Kent County tournament -- I beat him 2-1, and won the championship," Neal said. "Josh was actually my toughest match that tournament. Our matches always have been close."

And so have their relationships with their fathers.

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