For Patapsco wrestlers, win-loss record doesn't reflect learning curve

On High Schools

High Schools

February 13, 2005|By MILTON KENT

THE NUMBERS, the cold, hard numbers, suggest that this hasn't been an especially good season for the Patapsco wrestling team. But numbers, cold, hard numbers, seldom tell the entire story.

All year long, coach Bob Gorsuch and his team have been caught in a numbers game, where the numbers of team members have been small, so small that the competitive part of most of their matches has been over before spectators can get their seats warm.

But Gorsuch and his team are looking past the numbers toward the future, when the Patriots will be back on track.

"All you can do is go with the flow, as long as you see the kids progressing," Gorsuch said.

For years, Patapsco has had a solid wrestling program, winning county championships here and there, with an occasional individual state winner mixed in.

As recently as 2003, Gorsuch said, eight Patriots wrestlers qualified for the state regionals, and the junior varsity team won the county championship in 2001.

But things are different this season when Gorsuch said he started the year with only five wrestlers. One of his five was kicked out of school, while two others got injured and are done for the year.

Predictably, Patapsco has suffered, placing 17th in the 18-team Perry Hall tournament in December, just ahead of Dundalk. The Patriots lost, 72-12, to Dulaney in a tri-meet last month, during which Patapsco won only one of the three contested matches. The other 11 matches were forfeits, because there was no one from the school to wrestle.

What is happening at Patapsco is not that unusual. Ron Belinko, Baltimore County's coordinator of athletics, said a number of county schools are in a wrestling downturn. Previously strong programs at Dundalk, Overlea and Randallstown, an 11-time state champion, are hurting this year.

The reasons for the falloff are simple, said Belinko, himself a former wrestler and wrestling coach at Overlea. For one, the tendency of athletes to stick to one sport is hurting wrestling. For instance, football players who might have wrestled or run track indoors in the winter are instead involved in weight training programs for football, Belinko said.

"Some football coaches are not encouraging kids to go out for wrestling," Belinko said. "Rather than spend time in the weight room, they should be wrestling or in indoor track."

In other cases, the high school wrestling program is being hurt by the decay of feeder programs, Belinko said. For example, in the eastern part of the county, General Stricker Middle School used to send prospective wrestlers on to Patapsco and Sparrows Point, as well as Dundalk, but the program folded.

And let's not forget the siren call of private schools that can offer facilities and training for talented wrestlers that public schools can only dream of.

Patapsco faces other issues. Neither Gorsuch, nor his co-coach Will Richter, teaches at the school, so they can't recruit the student populace during the day for kids who might be curious about wrestling, but need a nudge to get them to the mats.

The other big problem at Patapsco is the school is a magnet site for the arts, namely dance, theater and chorus. Gorsuch said one of the wrestlers who got hurt was a choral student who left the team after getting hurt.

Because performance and rehearsal are parts of the curriculum at Patapsco, students who might be wrestlers would also have to juggle rehearsal time with time on the mat, and wrestling usually loses that battle.

"The demands that their major requires doesn't allow them to do both," Belinko said.

Rather than shut down the program for a year, as Randallstown did last year, Gorsuch, with Belinko's concurrence, decided to scale things back a bit, concentrating on a core of eight 10th grade wrestlers in hopes that the program will build itself up again.

In most meets, once the few varsity matches are over and the forfeits are declared, the junior varsity wrestlers take part in exhibitions to get experience.

"You know the JV kids are going to get better and you're going to have a better team next year," Gorsuch said. "The goal is to get the kids to learn. To me, if you get a JV kid out on the mat and he gets pinned in 30 seconds, he's not learning anything."

So far, the plan seems to be paying off, as two of the JV wrestlers won county titles, while three others placed sixth, suggesting that with a little luck and some nurturing, the numbers may pay off down the line for Patapsco.

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