A class act leaves mat after 26 years Wrestling: Rich Jackson, Wilde Lake's only head wrestling coach, is retiring. It's enough to make a longtime rival and colleague shed a few tears.

February 23, 1997|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

"Class" is the first word that comes to mind when describing Wilde Lake wrestling coach Rich Jackson, who is retiring from coaching that sport after 26 years -- the longest stint ever by a county wrestling coach. He's the only head coach Wilde Lake has had.

The 49-year-old Wilde Lake Middle School physical education teacher was honored at yesterday's county tournament by being the presenter of the awards. He was also given an engraved mantel clock by his fellow coaches in appreciation of his contributions.

"He'll be missed," said Hammond coach Jeff Starnes. "He's represented our county with class for 26 years."

Starnes, who along with Bill Smith, has turned Hammond into a mat powerhouse, wrestled for Jackson at Wilde Lake.

Another longtime figure in county wrestling, River Hill coach Earl Lauer, also will miss Jackson, who wants to spend more time with his family.

"Wrestling is the toughest sport to coach, and it takes tremendous dedication to do it for 26 years," Lauer said. "It was much tougher, because he didn't teach in the same building. He always tried to figure out a way to beat you. He was a good winner and a good loser. His personality never changed. It takes a special person to be that even-tempered that long."

Lauer described his feelings after River Hill wrestled Wilde Lake Feb. 4, knowing it was the last time his team would compete against Jackson's team.

"I had some tears in my eyes when I walked across the mat to shake his hand for that last match," Lauer said. "I've spent hours with him in seeding meetings, or coaches meetings, or across the mat."

They say that nice guys finish last. Jackson, who by anybody's standard would be considered one of the nicest guys in county sports, proved you can be a nice guy and still win.

His 1989 team won the county tournament with four individual champions and finished sixth in the state Class 1A-2A tournament. His 1988 team won the county dual-meet title with a 13-0 overall record and produced five county champions. The Wildecats won regional titles in 1988 and 1989.

"We never finished last in the county tourney, and I'm kind of proud of that," Jackson said. "I've been blessed with the kind of kids I've had, and it's hard to leave."

In all, he coached 38 county champions and three state champions. Mike Green won at states in 1994, and Andy Brown && was a state champ in 1987 and 1989.

Jackson coached three other wrestlers who finished second at states, five who were third and three who were fourth. And he coached three three-time county champs -- Brown, Nate Casella and Leric Wood.

Jackson recalls some surprises, like Howie Brown winning the All-Star meet at Hopkins in 1990 after finishing third at states.

And he remembers some disappointments.

"One of the saddest things was Cornell Johnson losing in states in 1990," Jackson said. "He had his match won but tried to do a throw late in the match and got pinned. That guy went on to finals, and Cornell was much better than him. Cornell should have won states."

One of Jackson's sons, Richard, wrestled for him and finished second in the county behind Hammond's Chris Williams, a state champion. His other son, Tony, did not wrestle and will attend Maryland next season on a football scholarship.

Jackson leaves a program that is healthy. The team finished in fourth place at 5-4 this season, but Wilde Lake's JV was 8-2.

"We'll pick up four or five junior league wrestlers next season," Jackson said.

He hopes his assistant coach, Mike Anderson, can take over, along with JV coach Adam Eldredge.

Jackson's wrestling history extends back to his City College days in Baltimore, where he finished third in the Maryland Scholastic Association A Division his senior year. His team won its fifth straight MSA title that season.

He also played baseball for Jerry Phipps and football as wide receiver for George Young -- now the New York Giants' general manager -- at City.

At Morgan State, he was a tri-captain on the wrestling team, finishing second in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association as a freshman, and third his junior and senior years. A broken hand kept him out of the tournament his sophomore year.

He also played football at Morgan for the legendary Earl Banks, who sent 11 players from Jackson's team to the National Football League, including Ray Chester (Oakland), Mark Washington (Dallas) and Willy Germany (Houston).

If Jackson hadn't injured his back in the Boardwalk Bowl his last game, he might have been the team's 12th pro player. He had tryouts scheduled with Washington and Philadelphia. Instead, he ended up in teaching, and the NFL's loss was Wilde Lake's gain.

Jackson also has served as an assistant football coach at Wilde Lake for 26 years and will continue next season.

Pub Date: 2/23/97

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