Calm, collected Perry aims for the top Wrestling: His coach and others believe the spindly Dunbar wrestler, twice a city champ, now has a chance to become Baltimore's first state public school champion.

January 30, 1998|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Dunbar wrestler Dennis Perry was about to take on his toughest league opponent of the year, Victor Ghee, the city champion from Northern.

But unlike some wrestlers, whose eccentricity might include slapping sides of their heads or doing neck-bridges before a big match, Perry sat calmly on Dunbar's bench. When his time to wrestle came, the slender senior stripped off his warm-up top, revealing a spindly 6-foot, 140-pound frame and what coach Michael Hendrick calls an "oversized wrestling uniform and knee pads that hang around his legs."

Conversely, the chiseled Ghee bounced on his toes, slapped his thighs and looked like a bull ready to charge. Off the whistle, Ghee was in on Perry's legs but was countered as their momentum carried them out of bounds.

Then Perry attacked, slipping behind Ghee and dragging him down for a 2-0 lead. Up 5-3 entering the third period, Perry outscored Ghee 10-2 for a 15-5 rout, after which a puzzled Ghee said: "He puts his weight on you, man, and he's got balance to get up when he wants to."

Said Perry: "Like a lot of people, he tried to muscle me, but I put it in my head that guys like that can't beat me. I do push-ups every night, some crunches here and there. But you look at me, see skin and bones, [you] might think I'm timid or not that strong."

But as Ghee discovered, Perry brings intangibles that have part-time Dunbar assistant Carlos Coppage predicting he'll become the city's first state champion, this season.

"He's a great thinker, a great tactician. On his feet, he's flawless, and he won't be stopped whenever he makes up his mind that he can't be stopped," said Coppage, a former high school All-American who wrestled for one season at the University of Oklahoma.

Perry (16-0 this year) is 45-8 over three seasons, including two Baltimore City championships and two runner-up efforts at regionals.

"When you're winning at Dunbar, people start showing up at matches," said Dunbar coach Michael Hendrick. "Dennis is doing really well, and people want him to keep on winning."

Perry knows what people want, particularly Dunbar alumni.

"People want a state championship, but that's no pressure for me," Perry said. "I just go out every match, do what I have to do. But I'm aware that a couple guys came close to winning [a state title] in the past."

Since city public schools joined the state association in 1992, city wrestlers have been state runners-up five times. Three city wrestlers who got that far -- Martius Harding in 1983, Bruce Pendles in 1994 and 1995, and Hermondez Thompson in 1994 -- were from Dunbar. Both of Pendles' championship losses were by a point.

Perry is a combined 1-3 at states. Though 12-3 overall as a sophomore, he lost his first-round bout at states to eventual third-place finisher Rasuli Bowers of Montgomery County's Einstein. Last winter, Perry went 1-2 at states, ending his season at 17-5 after a couple losing decisions to the eventual fifth- and sixth-place finishers.

This season, however, Perry owns a 6-3 victory over Hereford's Pat Curtis, a fifth-place finisher at last year's Class 1A-2A state tournament, and a 2-1 nail-biter over Boys' Latin's Rob Arnold, who was third at last year's private schools states.

"He really wants it, he's determined, but I'm not sure Dennis knows how great he can be," Coppage said. "Personally, though, I really believe he'll be the first state champion from Baltimore City."

Pub Date: 1/30/98

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