Welcome mat is rolled out for junior wrestlers


Anne Arundel plays host to athletes from across the region at U.S. Naval Academy


The Anne Arundel County junior wrestlers hosted the Maryland/Virginia Junior League state championships last weekend at the Naval Academy. When the tournament ended, the Anne Arundel wrestlers wished they weren't such gracious hosts.

Anne Arundel finished with 12 wrestlers who scored points by ending up among the top six places in their respective weight classes. Everyone enjoyed the tournament, but Anne Arundel coaches hoped for a little more success given that there were 16 competitors in each of the 19 weight classes.

"I thought we did OK, but I thought we were going to do better," said Rick Couch, who coaches with the Chesapeake program and is the president of the Anne Arundel County junior league. "Some of the kids just didn't have good tournaments."

Couch said that five kids in his program were one match away from qualifying for the medal round but couldn't do it.

"Being a state champion is not being the best kid of the whole year, it's being the best kid of the whole day," Couch said. "It's who's on and who's ready to wrestle. It's a mental sport as well as a physical one."

Nathan Fry and Ben Schaufle were the only Anne Arundel champions. Fry, an Arundel junior-league wrestler, captured the top spot in the 140-pound division. Schaufle, who competes with the Glen Burnie Rebels, won the title at 120.

Three Anne Arundel wrestlers finished second. Steve Smith from Cape St. Claire, Ron Vaughters of Old Mill and Severna Park's Brady Massaro captured the runner-up spots in their respective divisions.

No Anne Arundel wrestlers finished in third place, but two took fourth. Logan Reese from the Arundel junior league team captured fourth at 65 pounds. Mitchell Bode from Chesapeake took fourth in the 85-pound division.

Some of the heavier wrestlers also earned places in the medal round for Anne Arundel County. William Switzer took fifth in the 90-pound division. Andrew Pendock did the same at 150, and Josh Watkins also finished fifth at 185.

Couch said that the more kids wrestle in this tournament, the more they understand it and get used to the pressures that come with it.

"We had a lot of kids who came up just a little bit shy," Couch said. "It's a lot of pressure. I try to tell them: The more times you get there, the less pressure it is."

The two-day competition takes place at Navy's Halsey Field House. That's where the Midshipmen played basketball for many years until moving to Alumni Hall in the 1990s. Halsey, a large facility, fits a wrestling tournament perfectly, and Couch said that kids love to come to the Naval Academy because of its fame.

The tournament has been held there the past two years, and league officials will be voting in the coming weeks on having it there again in 2007.

Couch said that if league officials vote in favor of holding the tournament at Navy again, they'll go back to academy officials and request use of Halsey on the weekend they want to hold the event. Couch and Randy Bode, president of the Anne Arundel County Coaches Association, said that's what they foresee happening.

"We're trying to keep it there every single year," Couch said. "We would just love to keep it there. It handles everything for us. We have room to grow if we want to, and they really treat us excellently there and really welcome us."

Bode said that the tournament used to be rotated among the three leagues that competed in it: the Maryland Junior League, the Beltway Junior League and the Anne Arundel County Junior League.

"It was just great having it at Navy," Bode said. "It's a central location for all of the leagues, and the facilities far exceeded our expectations."

The tournament was large because of the number of wrestlers involved over the two days. There were of 304 wrestlers ages 7 to 15 in the tournament.

Bode, who also coaches in the Chesapeake wrestling program in Anne Arundel, said having the end-of-year tournament at Navy sparks the sport's popularity in this area. There were 11 teams in this year's Anne Arundel County league, two of which were noncounty groups.

Those involved with the program keep busy throughout the season. They usually practice three nights a week with competition/tournaments every weekend. That's why having the state tournament in Anne Arundel County can be a plus.

"It definitely helps build the program," Bode said. "It helps feed the program for parents that don't understand wrestling. It kind of advertises that wrestling can get you farther in high school and college."

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