Braunstein grapples with losing at Glen Burnie

Wrestling: First-year Gophers coach Jay Braunstein, who has had nothing but success as a competitor and a coach, is attempting to turn around a program that has not won in 2 1/2 seasons.

January 31, 1999|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

The practice room is in a small corner above the gym, a sea of Glen Burnie red.

First-year coach Jay Braunstein, wearing a sweaty T-shirt that reads "Ain't Nothin' But A Fear Thing," is doing what he knows best -- teaching the sport of wrestling.

From competitor to coach, success has followed him everywhere. Now, though, as the new leader of a program that is 0-34-1 over 2 1/2 seasons, the man who helped sustain a wrestling powerhouse at Old Mill is measuring success move by move instead of by championships.

Braunstein started wrestling in the sixth grade and remembers his first match for the Megavista program outside of Annapolis like it was yesterday: "Won it with a three-quarter nelson -- that was my move in the junior leagues," he says.

At Mount St. Joseph in the late '70s, he wrestled on two Maryland Scholastic Association championship teams and was an individual titlist as a junior.

He earned a full scholarship to Clarion University in wrestling-rich Pennsylvania and became an All-American. After graduating in 1982, he took over as the head coach at Clarion for one year and led the program to its first winning season in a decade.

His coaching resume continued with another one-year stint at Mount St. Joseph, where he guided what he called an already "stacked" Gaels team to another MSA crown along with a National Preps championship.

After getting away from the sport for a few years, he returned to coaching as an assistant under Mike Hampe for the past nine winters at Old Mill, where a 9-6 season a couple years back was considered disastrous. State titles and consistently strong showings at states were more the norm at the Millersville school.

Instilling the basics

Glen Burnie is only about 10 miles north of Old Mill, but wrestling-wise, the two programs are at opposite ends. While the Patriots captured the state dual meet championship last February before Hampe stepped down after 22 seasons and seven state titles, the Gophers had already finished their second straight winless season.

On Thursday afternoon, a demanding practice is nearly finished when the 40-year-old Braunstein, right in the mix throughout, hits his Gophers with a pop quiz.

"Show me an over-under," he blurts out. Two of his 12 wrestlers -- yes 12 -- try to demonstrate the move.

"Nope," says Braunstein at the first try.

"Oh my gosh, no," after the second.

Growing a bit impatient, he once again yells out: "Can anybody in this room show me an over-under?"

Finally, Chris Lilly steps up and is successful.

"A freshman, never wrestled before in his life," Braunstein boldly states to the rest of the group.

After practice, Braunstein is getting ready to do the team's wash. There's no team manager, and there's a match against Severna Park on Friday. He's asked if this is the biggest challenge of his wrestling life and before the question is complete, an emphatic "Yes" is already out.

"Their overall lack of knowledge was the hardest thing for me. Not the lack of wrestling moves, but the overall lack in the knowledge of the sport itself," he said. "We've helped that out a lot. We took them to Pittsburgh and took them to Delaware. The Pittsburgh tournament was overnight and they stayed with families up there. They learned so much about wrestling and the fraternity of wrestling. They placed in the tournament and did well."

Winning becomes secondary

In October, Braunstein had 63 prospects interested, but only 12 showed up at the first day of practice with after-school jobs taking precedence.

With the lack of numbers, the Gophers are forced to forfeit four matches each time out and only have a tie against North County in 10 matches to show for their hard work this season.

Seeing his wrestlers improve individually is the season goal -- not winning -- another thing Braunstein had trouble getting used to. Scott Nugyen, a junior 130-pounder, has the team's only winning record at 10-6. The inexperienced group has quickly bought into Braunstein's sales pitch.

"Last year, we went to practice just looking to get it over with," said junior Justin Williams. "Coach Braunstein is always telling us what we put into it is what we'll get out of it. We're working hard and having a lot of fun. This is our learning year. Next year, we'll be a lot better."

`It just takes time'

Increasing the numbers has become a priority.

Braunstein has surrounded himself with a strong cast of assistant coaches led by Dan Youngblood, who won a state title at Old Mill before graduating in 1985 and enjoying a solid four-year career at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Glen Burnie Rebels, a recreation program which Braunstein started this year, has 65 wrestlers out ages 5 to 15. The building blocks are being set.

"I was on the phone with him the other day saying, `Patience my son, patience,' " Hampe said. "He's just a wrestling guy who has a huge heart for kids. Jay has a tremendous understanding of the sport and a caring attitude to the kids.

"In this case with the numbers low, he has to work from the feeder system on up. The kids will see the positive attitude he brings and follow him. It just takes time. You'll see small differences and by the third year, you'll see them on a roll."

At home on the mat

For Braunstein, a partner in a cleaning and handyman service business, his time spent on the wrestling mat is sacred.

"He talks about wrestling and how it separates him from the other things in his life," said Youngblood. "He may have a business problem one day or maybe a personal problem, but it all goes away when he's in the wrestling room. He tells me wrestling should be lower on the totem poll, but it isn't. He feels much more at home on the mat than anywhere else."

Braunstein said his wrestlers have improved "leaps and bounds" since the first day of practice and is confident the losing mentality will soon fade away.

It's as if they have no other choice.

Pub Date: 1/31/99

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