Another promising wrestler who blew it

June 24, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

Another one!

That's the first thing that went through my mind when I learned what happened to Martius Harding: another guy from the Baltimore area who showed such promise on the wrestling mats in high school who blew it by either running afoul of the law or getting booted out of school. Or both.

Harding made news on The Sun's pages twice within the past week.

Last Saturday readers learned Harding, a special-education teacher at Govans Elementary School, remained on the school system's payroll even after he had pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

On Tuesday came the story that Harding had a criminal conviction even before he started teaching.

While attending West Virginia University, Harding was involved in an Internet credit card scam. He pleaded guilty to that charge and was kicked off the school's wrestling team.

Harding was sentenced to seven years for his drug conviction in federal court. He now joins the dubious ranks of other wrestlers who were high school standouts in their sport who veered off the straight and narrow.

During the 1978-1979 school Season, 16-year-old James Featherstone had a string of pins wrestling for Dunbar.

Then one night, Alan Paul Trimakis, a Johns Hopkins University medical student, was shot and killed on an East Baltimore street.

Featherstone was convicted of killing Trimakis and sentenced to life in prison. (Pamela Featherstone, the wife of James Featherstone's late brother, Jerome, swears her brother-in-law is innocent and was guilty of only being with the wrong element at the wrong time.)

Darian Kess was ranked as high as No. 3 in the country when he wrestled for Archbishop Curley High School from 1998 to 2000.

He won two Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association wrestling titles, two state private school championships and twice came in second at the national prep school championships.

During his sophomore year, Kess came in second at the toughest high school tournament in the country - called, appropriately, the "Beast of the East" - and beat seven wrestlers who were nationally ranked.

A local wrestling insider told me Kess was a shoo-in for a scholarship at wrestling power Iowa State University.

Instead, Kess got booted out of Curley for undisclosed reasons in 2000. He transferred to Overlea High School and got booted out of there, too.

Damon Matthews won two Maryland Scholastic Association championships while wrestling at Dunbar and was runner-up once.

In 1993, he coached Harding and other Poets grapplers to an eighth-place finish at the 2A/1A state tournament, the highest a city public school has ever finished.

Matthews was named coach of the year.

Four years later, Matthews was sentenced to 12 years in prison for stabbing his estranged wife. Matthews now goes by the name of Damon Matthews-Bey and has since been released. I've met him, and he says he's a changed man.

I believe him.

But I still get a sense of "Oh, what could have been!" if he hadn't lost it that day back in 1996 when he attacked his wife.

Now I'm getting that same sense as I think about Harding, who didn't even start wrestling until he arrived at Dunbar as a freshman.

I remember the first time I saw Harding wrestle. It was the finals of the 1993 MSA tournament, then on its last legs after then-school Superintendent Walter Amprey had done his best to kill what was left of the MSA.

Harding, in only his second year of wrestling, lost a tough 3-1 decision to Danny DeVivo of Mt. Saint Joseph High School, which then ruled the roost of local high school wrestling.

Several weeks later, Harding placed second in the 160-pound weight class at the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association 2A/1A state tournament.

Those who hoped that Harding would become the first state wrestling champ from a Baltimore public school the next year saw those hopes dashed when Harding transferred to McDonogh School.

Harding said at the time that he wanted to become a doctor and transferred to McDonogh because it had a more rigorous college preparatory curriculum than Dunbar. Who could argue with him?

At McDonogh, Harding placed second in the MIAA tournament his junior year and won it his senior year. He finished third at the national preps in 1994 and second in 1995. From there, it was a scholarship to the University of Virginia.

Harding was cruising down Success Boulevard when, for reasons perhaps known only to him, he made a sharp turn onto Screw-Up Alley.

Kess made that same turn, though with less drastic consequences. I hate to drag race into this discussion, but this was a case of two young black men who had opportunities based on their athletic skills that many other young black men don't get.

It just rankles me to see how egregiously they both blew it.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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