Out of the ordinary for unconventionality

Wrestling: Owings Mills coach Guy Pritzker wins his players' attention -- and respect -- with bold moves.

February 28, 2002|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

The day before the Baltimore County wrestling tournament, Owings Mills wrestling coach Guy Pritzker closed a light practice with a high-spirited game of dodgeball.

He came to the county tournament with bleached yellow hair, a promise he kept to his team for winning the Class 2A-1A state duals title the week before.

"Anything to make it fun," said Pritzker, whose 23-1 team responded with its sixth county title in his 20 seasons. "It's tradition."

Pritzker is an unconventional, wacky and sometimes fiery coach who replaces pep talks with funny, lesson-based monologues, and often prepares his wrestlers for big matches by telling them how they're going to lose.

"Guy Pritzker's anything but a conformist. He always has been a maverick-type of individual," said Tom Gaylin, who coached against Pritzker when Pritzker started coaching recreation leagues 30 years ago. "He's always done things that deviate from the norm and gotten results. But what works for him doesn't work for everybody."

But it works for Priztker. His teams have won four Class 2A-1A tournament titles -- the most by any active coach -- and he has coached 15 individual state champions since 1988. For his accomplishments and his long-time devotion to the sport, Pritzker will be inducted Saturday into the Maryland Wrestling Hall of Fame in a ceremony prior to the championship matches of the state tournament at Western Maryland College.

"To be in the Hall of Fame is such a prestigious thing, a major honor bestowed on a coach," said Pritzker, 47, whose fourth-ranked Eagles are favored to win their fifth state title.

Though successful, Priztker's sometimes explosive demeanor during matches has its critics.

"He can be arrogant, obnoxious" to rival coaches and referees, said Gaylin, an NCAA referee from Rosedale.

"Guy takes chances, gets more hyper than you might like, gets the crowd going crazy with his gestures," said veteran referee Walter Reed. "But the crowd doesn't always know what he's saying, and it's usually just for show. He knows how far to go with some referees."

Before his team's state dual title match with defending state champ Kent County, Pritzker playfully distracted his rivals by reaching at the wrestlers' shoes in an attempt to untie them as they walked by.

"You normally have to pay for entertainment like that, because he's crazy, absolutely crazy," said Kent coach Dan Zottarelli. "His tie is crooked if you can get him to wear one, and his shirt is untucked, and he's always saying, `I'm nervous, I'm really nervous.' "

Dennis Frazier, Pritzker's longtime rival when Frazier coached at Loyola, said Pritzker is "a master at getting under your skin."

"If he did that and you kicked his butt, it wouldn't bother you," said Frazier, a first-year coach at South Carroll. "But he does it, then goes out and wins."

Pritzker disdains wrestle-offs, where teammates in the same weight wrestle a match to determine who gets the starting spot. And he says that grueling practices often lead to injuries and "beat-up bodies."

"I consider wrestle-offs counter-productive because the kids are pitted against each other and you always have kids on the team who want one guy to win, and other kids who want the other to win," Pritzker said.

While his mat-side antics don't always endear him to rivals, his loyalty to his wrestlers does. "You can see the kids' admiration, like he's one of them," Zottarelli said.

"Guy's been with the kids since they were pups, which is why, come crunch-time, they perform for him," said Baltimore County coordinator of athletics Ron Belinko, a former wrestling coach. "Guy has devoted his whole life to wrestling probably more than any coach in Maryland. He's developed his talent in a day and age when most coaches don't."

No one knows that more than Karen Pritzker, who, in 23 years of marriage, has tolerated impromptu sleep-overs and both dinner and sleep interruptions from wrestlers' late phone calls.

"It's just that the kids are so much a part of him," she said. "When they lose, he feels terrible, but it's not like, `Hey, they cost us the match,' just him feeling the way they feel."

Pritzker still walks with a limp from a badly deteriorated left hip that likely will require surgery next month, and he still checks a right shoulder that threatens to dislocate as it did during his teen-age and collegiate years.

"I always dreamed of making the Olympics, even though I never finished first in any tournament I wrestled in," Pritzker said. "But wrestling got me where I am today, which ain't bad."

State tournament

What: 33rd annual Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association 4A-3A and 2A-1A state wrestling.

When: Tomorrow-Saturday.

Where: W.Md. College Gill Center.

Schedule: Tomorrow -- preliminaries, 2:30-6:30 p.m.; quarterfinals, 7:30-10 p.m. Saturday -- Consolation preliminaries, 10 a.m. - noon; semifinals, consolation quarters, noon-2:30; consolation semifinals, 2:30-3:30; consolation finals, finals, 5.

Admission: $5 for each of the six sessions; all-session passes $15.

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