Wrestlers at Carver High take down a stereotype

January 09, 2000|By GREGORY KANE

THE ROCK led Carver High School's wrestling team to the center of the mat. The 18-year-old senior captain barked out orders as the team did jumping jacks, push-ups and sprawls to warm up for their Thursday afternoon match with Lake Clifton High School.

The Rock -- he's also known as Ahmad Rashad Taylor -- has been at this wrestling thing for three years now. Carver had no wrestling team when Taylor was a freshman. The program was revived in his sophomore year. Kama Owens, a 1994 Carver graduate who wrestled for the school, now coaches the revived Carver team. Carl Robinson, a hall monitor at the school, serves as his assistant.

It's somehow symbolic that the decline in Baltimore public schools coincided with the slide from eminence of an excellent wrestling tradition. Taylor said it wasn't until he joined Carver's team that he learned of the school's days as a wrestling powerhouse in the old Maryland Scholastic Association. Carver won the MSA tournament in the early 1960s. In the 1966-1967 school year, the 10 teams with the best records over the years formed the A conference. Carver was one of seven public schools in the conference (City, Poly, Douglass, Dunbar, Edmondson and Mergenthaler were the others) and one of its strongest.

That all ended. It started in the mid-1970s when private schools started to dominate the MSA's A conference. In the public schools, interest in wrestling waned to the point where some schools no longer have programs and others don't have enough bodies to fill all 13 weight classes.

But that didn't stop the Rock from joining the team. In fact, it inspired him.

"Mostly I was interested in [wrestling] because I realized there weren't many black wrestlers," Taylor said after Thursday's match.

Oh, you've gotta like this kid. In an age where all too many blacks believe African-American children are born with basketballs in their hands, here's a guy who's chosen a sport his West African ancestors practiced long before basketball was invented.

The Rock paced nervously behind his team's bench as the 103-pound match got under way. He was undefeated, with a 5-0 record at 145 pounds, when the day began. But two of his teammates were suspended -- the coaches declined to say why, per school policy. They wouldn't wrestle today. So Owens and Robinson asked Taylor and Delfonda Cooper, the co-captain and the regular 152-pounder, to move up a weight. Taylor would wrestle at 152, Cooper at 160.

Carver's 103-pounder won. The team had no 112-pounder and had to forfeit that contest. Duran McCormick, Carver's 119-pounder, overcame a six-point first-period deficit to lead, 18-15, going into the third period. The 16-year-old junior electrical wiring major then pinned his opponent with 16 seconds remaining in the bout.

The Rock had to face a taller and stronger opponent. About a minute into the match, Taylor snapped the boy over in a headlock. The kid used his strength to roll out of it. In the second period, the Rock slapped a cradle on the boy and got three points for a near-fall. Again his opponent used his strength to break free of the hold. But the Rock held on for a 4-1 victory.

"I couldn't outmuscle him," Taylor said. "I had to outthink him. I got the lead and then let him do the work."

When asked if his opponent's superior height bothered him, the Rock quickly answered that height was the least of his worries. "His strength gave me problems," Taylor answered. "That's why I refused to tie up with him."

Just two weeks earlier, Taylor had talked of moving down a weight class, to 140 pounds. It was a Saturday morning at the school, the day of Carver's male role model breakfast. Taylor was attired in slacks, a sports jacket and a tie. In a session on sexuality, he revealed that he favors girls who like romance, who don't mind getting flowers from a guy every now and again.

He dresses in a suit and tie daily at Carver. Some of the guys try to crack on him about it, Taylor acknowledged. But so far, none has sought to tangle with the undefeated wrestling team captain.

The Rock says the conditioning required for wrestling -- the sport ain't football or basketball, folks -- has helped him "mentally and physically." He's put the discipline to good use. Two mornings a week he awakes early to take his daughter to a baby sitter before attending school. He works two jobs -- at Burger King and his church -- and leaves the three-hour wrestling practices early to earn money to support his child.

Every youngster who wrestles for a city high school should know he (sometimes, she) is helping to keep alive a proud legacy. These are special kids, these wrestlers who sweat and work for little recognition. And the full-time daddy and three-year wrestler named Ahmad Rashad Taylor may be the most special of them all.

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