State champ pins victory on hard work, perseverance

April 14, 1999|By Gregory Kane

DENNIS SCOTT hadn't given wrestling a first thought, much less a second one. He never considered going out for Poly's wrestling team when football season ended in late 1995, his freshman year.

"I didn't even want to wrestle," Scott said as he relaxed in a chair in his school's main office. "I was kind of pressured into it by my football buddies. They were like, 'You gotta come out.'"

Scott did go out for the wrestling team. The sport proved too tough for his buddies. They soon quit. But Scott stuck it out for four years -- practicing, sweating, leaving the wrestling room with aching muscles.

It all paid off in early March. At the 1A/2A state wrestling championships held at Western Maryland College, Scott became the first Baltimore public school wrestler to win a state title. He beat four opponents, each of whom had placed in the top four of one of the state's regional tournaments. For those of you not familiar with the sport, that simply means young Scott beat four guys who were pretty darn tough.

"I really felt a moment of awe," Scott said when he realized the final [See Kane, 5b] seconds had ticked off the scoreboard and he was state champion at last. "I was like, 'Wow, I did it.' I thought of all the aching bones, the sweat, the hard work. I stopped and reflected on it. It was like a mental high."

It was a distinctly different feeling from his freshman year. Scott had no wrestling experience. Poly needed a heavyweight. Scott was it.

"I got hammered," Scott recalled. But he picked up needed experience working out with seasoned veterans in Poly's wrestling room. He won his first match that freshman year, and his reaction then was close to elation.

He got better his sophomore year, making it -- "by some mysterious grace of God," Scott claimed -- to the regional tournament. Wrestling in the 10th grade was his toughest year.

"I couldn't challenge the ranked guys," Scott said, "and I had to adjust to a new coach."

But by his junior year he knew he was capable of winning a state championship. He placed third in the regionals and made it to the semifinals of the state tournament, where he hyperextended his elbow. But he still won a consolation match that garnered him fifth place.

It was at last year's tournament that Scott rooted openly for Dunbar's Dennis Perry -- who lost by a narrow margin in the finals -- to become Baltimore's first state wrestling champion. Scott remembers his state of mind before Perry took the mat. "If he doesn't win it," Scott said, "I know I am."

The 5-foot-11, 255-pounder gave up football his senior year to focus on wrestling. Even though he lost in the city championships and the regionals, Scott told his coach, Kirk Stehman, as the two rode to Westminster, that he would win it all.

"He set a goal and went after it," said Stehman, a state wrestling champion during his Pennsylvania high school days. "He wrestled the best he wrestled all year. That achievement is something you carry with you all your life. That's what I told him after he won. 'Go out and apply this to the rest of your life.'"

Scott is taking the advice. He plans to use the wrestling scholarship he has to Delaware State University to major in biology. After that, he'll teach.

"I want to give something back to the inner city," said Scott, who grew up in Govans and attended Chinquapin Middle School. "There are not enough black male role models in schools." Scott's strongest male role models are his brother-in-law and Stehman.

"Coach is always optimistic and tells me to tough it out," Scott said of Stehman. His brother-in-law, married to the elder sister who urged him to attend Poly, attended his matches and brought his nieces and nephews.

"I want to be a role model myself," Scott noted, adding that Baltimore City -- and its public school students -- have a negative image.

"We're not all drug dealers," Scott wants those outside Baltimore to know. He has a message for the young men in Baltimore public schools who might hesitate to go out for wrestling because they don't have the junior league experience that guys in the private schools and county recreation programs have.

"It's not about what you know," the new state heavyweight champ advises, "it's about what you learn and what you are willing to achieve."

Scott flashed a smile as he handed down this wisdom, as if he knew it applies to more than just wrestling.

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