Sport keeps strong hold

Involvement: A former wrestling champion who coached kids for years has become commissioner of the county's wrestling youth group.

Howard Week

January 12, 2003|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Jeff Rosenberg ranks as one of the two most successful high school wrestlers in Howard County history. In four varsity seasons at Oakland Mills High School in the 1980s, Rosenberg won four straight county championships and three straight Maryland championships.

He won 106 high school bouts, lost 15, and does not recall losing to a Howard County opponent, not only in high school but in junior wrestling, where he accumulated an impressive trophy collection, as well.

Next came college, but after a year split between Clarion (Pa.) University and Howard Community College, Rosenberg started anew. He spent four years earning a degree in psychology at a national collegiate wrestling powerhouse, West Virginia University. Rosenberg, his high school wrestling achievements notwithstanding, went to Morgantown as a walk-on - no scholarship.

He made the wrestling squad, but in four years, he never competed in a varsity match. One reason, he said matter-of-factly, was "a guy ahead of me who eventually won nationals."

You'd think that might have killed, or at least diminished, any enthusiasm Rosenberg had for the sport.

Not so.

Rosenberg, who is 32, married, works with computer systems, and lives in Columbia's Owen Brown village, has been coaching kids in the sport back home for the past six years. This winter, he became commissioner, or president, of Howard County Youth Wrestling, the only youth group in the sport here.

Coping with all that goes with managing and scheduling teams in a league totaling about 300 youth wrestlers is - like heading any youth sports group - one demanding, time-consuming job.

Yet, untypical of most who head youth sports clubs because their children are involved, Rosenberg has none.

Becoming commissioner meant stepping down after four seasons as coach of the Vipers, the youth club's competitive travel team. But he is still in charge of a clinic team and a recreation-level team, and he conducts an hourlong open wrestling session each week.

Which makes this compliment from his former high school coach, Steve Carnahan, a member of Maryland's Wrestling Hall of Fame, even more understandable:

"I'm probably biased," said Carnahan, who directs special education at Oakland Mills but no longer coaches the school's team, "but Jeff's done more for Howard County wrestling than anyone else I can think of, coming back to help others the way he has. He's evolved into a very successful coach, already having coached a number of wrestlers who have done quite well in the county, as well as the state, and gone on to college."

Rosenberg hits the mat, literally, several times every week, for one simple reason: "I love wrestling."

He also has an interesting perspective on the sport's role in his life.

"The things I've learned, the relationships I've developed through competition, will leverage the rest of my life," he said. "Wrestling got me through college, which wasn't easy for me, but it helped me do the best I could.

"I've learned that if you want to be No. 1 in something but never get to that point, you still don't quit. ... I see myself as dedicated to wrestling as a hobby now, not as a career, but it's part of who I am."

He said he has some objectives for bolstering the youth club, among them bringing others into leadership positions - he noted that he is far from the only young man involved with the club these days who learned the sport in the organization.

He praises his wife, Denise, for her tolerance, and he credits Wade Wray, his predecessor as the club's commissioner, with helping him deal with his new administrative duties. Wray, a Columbia resident who was commissioner for four winters, is still active but wanted to spend more time with his children.

"Jeff volunteered, really, to become commissioner," said Wray. "That's tough enough, but he's coaching, too, he loves wrestling so much. And he handles kids really well."

Rosenberg got into wrestling as a boy, following his older brother, Dan, now a wrestling official, at Oakland Mills. The elder brother was a three-time county champion.

"It was brotherly competitiveness," said Jeff of those early years, when he began in what then was called the COBRA wrestling program, backed largely by the Columbia Optimists. "I wasn't exceptional at any other sport. I wasn't really a good athlete, but wrestling just worked for me."

It sure did, said Carnahan. "What made the difference in wrestling for Jeff is that he had such a passion for the sport, he devoted his energy to it year-round."

That still holds, it seems.

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