Going to the mat for wrestling tournament

January 14, 2004|By Gregory Kane

RISING, LIKE a phoenix, from the ashes of the prestigious wrestling tournament known as the Hammond Invitational in Howard County comes still another wrestling showcase: Mount Mat Madness!

The tournament held at Hammond High School had earned a reputation for being one of the toughest anywhere and, apparently, the ultra-competitive nature of the event was exactly what bothered some folks in Howard County. It seems with top-ranked private schools and out-of-state schools competing, the tournament was a little bit too tough, according to some.

"The level of competition," said Don Disney, director of athletics for Howard County public schools, "at the 2003 [Hammond Invitational] tournament was higher than the state tournament. ... Our schools and other area public schools do not enter because 90 percent of them cannot compete at that level."

So in much the same way you would dumb down, say, high school assessment tests because they're too tough for some students, Howard County officials decided to water down the competition at the Hammond Invitational. Never mind that seven Maryland public schools participated at the 2003 Hammond Invitational, with Jim Van Daniker of Perry Hall and Corey Bowers of Chesapeake High of Anne Arundel County finishing second in the state's toughest tournament. Never mind that schools entered this tournament precisely because it's tough, or that, once they leave high school, our public school students will be competing against private school graduates in college not only athletically, but academically.

No, the Hammond Invitational had to be changed because it was too tough.

Fortunately for fans of area high school wrestling, Neil Adelberg is still in these parts. Adelberg is a local businessman who, in an earlier life, was the wrestling coach at Mount St. Joseph High School. Adelberg was there in 1976, when Mount St. Joe began its storied run of winning 19 consecutive Maryland Scholastic Association wrestling tournament titles. Adelberg coached the Gaels to MSA dual meet and tournament championships in 1976, 1977 and 1978, as well as National Prep School championships in those years. In his earlier days, Adelberg wrestled on Jewish Community Center junior league teams with guys who had names like Gaby, as in Al, and Himmelstein, as in Jay, who won outstanding wrestler awards at, respectively, the 1968 and 1969 MSA tournaments.

It was Adelberg who picked up the ball when organizers of the Hammond Invitational opted out of Howard County. Adelberg decided to have Mount St. Joe sponsor the new, improved, even tougher "Mount Mat Madness," which runs Friday and Saturday at Goucher College.

"Mount St. Joe," Adelberg said, "whose philosophy is to offer excellence in athletics and academics, is perfectly fine with it." The "it" in question is the concept of a tough high school tournament featuring the best teams in Maryland and nearby states. Slated to wrestle are Mount St. Joe, the top private school from last year; Chesapeake of Anne Arundel County, the top public school in the 4A/3A class; Owings Mills, the defending state 2A/1A champion; and four of the top 10 teams in Virginia and two of the top 10 teams in Delaware. Some 55 state or national prep school champions will wrestle to see who's best in the tri-state area.

Adelberg started organizing Mount Mat Madness in May, footing the bill for the tournament himself.

"I'm paying back the wrestling community," Adelberg said, "because wrestling's been such an important part of my life." Adelberg even wants to give back to those spectators who may not be too familiar with tournament wrestling. His "spectator-friendly" format calls for tournament brackets to be printed each day, and for each match to be numbered and posted on scoreboards so fans will know who's wrestling on what mat.

The top three in each weight class will receive handsome trophies. Former wrestlers such as Lloyd Keaser - the Pumphrey terror who wrestled for now-defunct Brooklyn Park High School in the late 1960s - and Ernie Fischer, a two-time MSA outstanding wrestler in 1949 and 1950 at Southern High in Baltimore, will be honored with awards. Keaser went on to wrestle for the Naval Academy, where he was a two-time All-American. Fischer placed second in the 1954 NCAA tournament for the University of Maryland. Both went on to wrestle in the Olympics, the only Marylanders, Adelberg said, to do so. Kelly Ward, a former Maryland state and NCAA champ, and Todd Beckerman, a collegiate All-America who wrestled at DeMatha High School - one of the schools participating in Mount Mat Madness - will also receive awards.

"I wanted to run the best high school tournament Maryland has ever had," Adelberg said. "I'm doing that to show guys like Disney it can be done."

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