Tak­ing it out on the mat

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - TO THE MAT -

With just weeks to go be­fore the big­gest meet of the year, the city cham­pi­onships in Fe­bru­ary, Coach Cole­man needed to get his team turned around. That meant get­ting Dakuwuan back in the lineup, and get­ting the rest of the team to be­lieve they would win with­out the in­jured Dashawn.

He de­scribed later how he felt: “I’m not re­ally as con­fi­dent in the sea­son as I was, but we’re go­ing to fin­ish the sea­son out to the max.”

On yel­low-lined pa­per on the wall of the Ban­neker Blake wrestling room, he had taken a black Sharpie and writ­ten out these rules:

1. Pay at­ten­tion

2. Fol­low direc­tions

3. Re­spect ev­ery­one

4. Steel sharpen steel.

The last line cap­tures the idea that a wrestler can’t truly get bet­ter un­less pushed by a team­mate — the be­lief that all are re­spon­si­ble for each other's suc­cess.

So in those days be­fore the cham­pi­onships, Cole­man and Vazquez ran tough prac­tices in the school’s stuffy gym. They paired off wrestlers with team­mates of roughly equal skills, drilling the moves. They built up the boys’ con­di­tion­ing. They prac­ticed an­kle picks (grab­bing an op­po­nent’s an­kle to take him down) and chain wrestling (flow­ing from one tech­nique to the next).

“Now is the time to push your­self!” Vazquez said. “So when you get out on the mat, it’s noth­ing!”

Dur­ing one prac­tice, Cole­man got the boys in push-up for­ma­tion. To­gether, they went up and down in uni­son, beads of sweat drip­ping off their noses.

“I Will!” Cole­man shouted.

“I Will!” the boys echoed.

“Not Give Up!”

“Not Give Up!”

He schooled them in hold­ing in their frus­tra­tion, and any anger they might feel from classes, home, or other kids, un­til af­ter school. Then they could take it all out on the wrestling mat.

The coaches were see­ing prom­ise in two eighth-graders, An­toine McCall and Sadeeq Big­gers. Maybe they could help fill the hole left by Dashawn?

Sadeeq, a chess player, had joined the team when he wan­dered into the room one day and was treated with hos­til­ity by wrestlers who didn’t want him walk­ing on the mat in his street shoes. “I wanted to prove I could get on the mat,” he said. The sport

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.