Even those who love the sport of wrestling find it hard to smile during a hard practice, but the wrestling room at Patterson Mill High School was filled with those sparkling, pearly whites, Tuesday, when the Maryland School for the Blind (MSB) visited for a two-team practice session.
“It was awesome. Not only did the school for the blind wrestlers learn something from our kids, but I think our kids almost learned more from them across the board,” Husky coach Ryan Arist said. “I was very impressed with the character they showed and was proud of the patience they demonstrated in seeing another side of life.
“It just made me proud. It is times like these that I love being a coach, and that’s why I brought this scrimmage here.”
For nearly the entire practice, the MSB drilled and experienced live wrestling with the varsity Huskies, learning new moves to take to their own wrestling season.
“This means everything to them. They talk about it for weeks before and weeks after,” MSB coach Sara Hines explained. “In my first year as a coach, I got Parkville High School to partner up and wrestle us and you would have though I had given these kids the moon.
“Getting the chance to wrestle with typical high school kids and getting to experience a public high school wrestling practice, gave them a taste of what it is like to be a part of a public high sports program. Even if they lose, they don’t care. They are happy they get to be a part of something. They love the experience and love what they get out of it.”
With only having two regular season matches scheduled, MSB is always “thrilled” to work with the Maryland public schools to get extra mat time, and Patterson Mill is just the third public school to open its doors to MSB, joining the ranks of Parkville and New Town.
After demonstrating and working with the MSB wrestlers on new moves, the Huskies put on blindfolds and worked as if they lacked the sense of sight, which many of the Patterson Mill wrestlers said was an entirely new experience.
“It is totally different. It is almost like a different world,” Husky Mike Dashiell said. “You are completely blind, but you can see what is going on in your mind, and it is still a challenge.”
“It is a different experience,” Chris Edwards said. “I think everybody takes for granted the little things, like being able to see and hear, and wrestling with the blindfold really puts everything in perspective for you.
“Seeing these guys out here, my guy having trouble hearing and seeing, and we are drilling and he is going hard and intense. We have kids in our practice that sometimes dog-it or complain about not wanting to practice, and then you have these kids that are going hard, going intense, and we have to tell him to stop. Even when we do, he is ready to go again. It is a deep, meaningful lesson for me.”
The practice session saw six MSB wrestlers interacting with the Husky varsity squad, including Andrew Kotowski, Rasheeda McCrae, Paul Scruggs, Kelvin Atkinson, Shawn Bishop and Joshua Gregory.
“The tight-waist breakdown was a good one to use. It works a lot,” Kotowski said of his recently learned move. “I am really into the experience here, and I really want to make my father proud.”
Coach Hines has a tough job, and one that was acknowledged by Coach Arist, who tried coaching the blind wrestlers and admittedly slipped occasionally and gave them visual instructions.
“It was frustrating,” Arist said of the coaching adaptation. “I can only imagine, as a wrestler, your coach is saying, ‘spin to me,’ and it means nothing to the wrestler.”
“They have to overcome a lot and it takes a lot of concentration to “sense” an opponent’s body movements,” Hines said, who is in her third year as a coach of MSB. “When a person loses their vision, they have to rely on their other senses like touch or hearing, so they have to be more perceptive of what’s going on around them.”
The MSB wrestling team was once a fierce competitor when their population of students was just blind, now they served students who are blind and multiply impaired. Nevertheless, they have cherished their wrestling program for more than 60 years.
“We are just really thankful that other schools are welcoming us in,” Hines said. “A lot of times, people see it as a liability, but this just makes my students feel so special and so proud to be able to be out here with regular kids. Even if they aren’t doing the specific move perfectly, they can’t see that it isn’t exactly like everyone else, and they still feel like they are competing. And that’s what this is all about. ”