At match, wrestling memories take hold of area alumni

January 29, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

IT'S FUNNY how acting on a whim can take you back 35 years.

I was recovering from a nasty virus my grandchildren -- Senor Spences and his kid sister and partner in contagion, Kaila -- had passed on to me nearly two weeks earlier. (They recovered sooner, proving that their little bodies are made for regeneration and rejuvenation and granddad's is made for the couch.)

It was the Saturday before the Super Bowl. I trolled the papers, antsy to get out, afflicted with borderline cabin fever and looking to take in some wrestling because the virus had caused me to miss the Hammond tournament a week earlier. I had a choice between the Edgewood tournament and the Gilman Duels.

I opted for the Gilman Duels, out of respect for the rich wrestling tradition of the Roland Parkers and because City College was one of the eight teams wrestling. Ah, City wrestling! We Knights have a wrestling tradition of our own. The names could form a who's who of Baltimore high school wrestling in the 1960s: Mike Armstrong, Joe Barranco, Greg Watkins, George Jordan, Ken Seymour, Stan Davis, Larry McCoy, Jay Himmelstein.

Ask high school wrestling aficionados who the greatest City wrestler was, and the list will come down to two names: McCoy and Himmelstein. McCoy was a two-time Maryland Scholastic Association champ and outstanding wrestler of the 1966 tournament.

Himmelstein won the outstanding wrestler award in 1969, his senior year. He was undefeated going into the tournament finals his junior year. It took 1968's outstanding wrestler, Gilman's Al Gaby, to beat him in one of the best matches this area's ever seen.

So, driven by a whim, I headed to Gilman, thinking of all those classic City-Gilman wrestling clashes -- individual and team -- that were the trademark of the 1960s MSA. As it turned out, that whim drove me smack-dab into Gilman's reunion of its 1970-1974 wrestling teams, which won five straight MSA tournaments and retired the prestigious Lehigh Cup.

The whim also drove me into a reunion with Himmelstein, whom I caught peering at the wrestling action from the room reserved for consuming food and beverages. We exchanged the hearty handshakes you would expect from high school classmates who hadn't seen each other in 34 years. Inevitably our conversation turned to the wrestling.

"It's different now," Himmelstein said. "City has a girl on the team." He was referring to Krystal Lovelist, the Knight's 125-pound senior.

"I've got news for you, Jay," I answered. "She's better than I was."

My classmate and teammate from the 1968 City wrestling team didn't disagree. He'd seen me wrestle, or, more accurately, he'd seen me be wrestled. And mauled. And pinned.

Just before Lovelist's match against her Gilman opponent, Himmelstein pondered whether or not he should give her a few pointers.

"Should I show her the stutter step?" Himmelstein asked.

"Oh, by all means," I answered.

He was referring to his famous maneuver, where he'd fake shooting a takedown on his opponent, who would freeze for a split second. A split second was all Himmelstein needed to go for his real takedown and an automatic two points.

Before long, Ed Brown, Gilman's coach from 1965 to 1980, worked his way over to where Himmelstein and I were sitting with City's wrestlers to shake Himmelstein's hand. Brown was on hand when Gaby, wrestling a brilliantly strategic match, beat Himmelstein.

A few minutes after Brown left, another Gilman wrestling great showed up. It was Gaby himself, reunited with Himmelstein almost 35 years after their classic match.

They chatted for a few minutes, trying to get caught up on the decades. Gaby said he had just moved back from California and pointed to his wife and 2-year-old son off in the distance. Himmelstein said he's living in Worcester, Mass. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts medical school.

They spoke about their match, too. Himmelstein expressed pride that, he said, Gaby acknowledged he had more or less run away from Himmelstein the entire match. What Gaby actually did was avoid wrestling Himmelstein on his feet, where Jay would have killed him.

Himmelstein had me take a picture of him and Gaby standing together. I clicked the button and prayed I hadn't blown it. I had come to Gilman on a whim, and ended up taking a picture of two of the greatest MSA wrestlers ever to take the mat.

For a high school wrestling fan, it just doesn't get any better than this.

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