Picture yourself in a pitch black gym, the only thing you can see is an Elvis impersonator dancing on black and gold wrestling mat illuminated by the single light that dangles 15-feet above.

A smoky fog begins to pour from the corner of the gym.  The 400 fans all jump to their feet as the team sprints through the fog, with all the sounds of a Super Bowl filling the room, and takes to one of the most theatric wrestling events you have ever seen.

That is what spectators can plan on seeing, Wednesday, when Gilman travels to John Carroll in the Patriots’ ninth annual Wrestlepalooza.

Started in 2003 as a way to kick off the season and generate the school’s interest in the upcoming wrestling season, John Carroll coach Keith Watson combines high school wrestling with all the bells and whistles of a WWF event to create a spectacle that everyone in attendance will never forget.

“The ‘big’ part of the event is in the pre-match activities.  The DJ’s intro music, the team’s warm-up and line-up introductions to music—followed by an always interesting Star Spangled Banner performance,” Watson explained, who in 2008 had a student dress up in hippy attire and play along with Jimmi Hendrix’s Woodstock recording.

“In retrospect, at 10 minutes, it may have been too long for this event,” he laughed.

The event’s effect is not limited to the fans, as Watson found out in the first ever Wrestlepalooza, when then Patriot wrestler Dean Roberts snuck upstairs from the locker room to assess the crowd and came running back with a big grin yelling, ‘the gym’s packed.’

“I try to keep everybody downstairs because I want them to be blown away when they see the dark gym, all the people and the mat light, and Dean snuck past and came back and said, ‘holy crap, this place is packed,’” Watson recalled.

John Carroll went on to lose the first ever Wrestlepalooza to St. Vincent Pallotti in a double-overtime final match-up, but the event served its purpose as the crowd’s excitement was so loud that the referee wasn’t able to hear the buzzer in last match of the night.

Since that first loss, the Pats haven’t lost again, beating Towson High, Calvert Hall, Gilman, Perryville and Urbana, among others.

Littering the school with notices of the match, the Patriots have been able to pack the gym in past years, seeing as many as 400 people in the stands for the event.  According to Watson, other sports teams even delay their practices so that they can attend.

The event costs the wrestling program about $500 out-of-pocket in give-aways, this year in 50 t-shirts, and countless hot dog and soda combos from the concession stand.

“This wasn’t planned to be a reoccurring thing.  I just wanted to make a circus atmosphere the first time out-of-the-gate to get people to come to this first one,” Watson said.  “Every year it became a tradition that we would start our season with our Wrestlepalooza.

The first time Watson went to a John Carroll match in 2002 before becoming the coach, the Pats were wrestling Perryville High School and had just 16 fans in the bleachers.  That simply would not do for Watson.  “I said that the first thing I had to do when I get over here is figure out how to put some butts in the seats.”

“It is just a little more of a spectacle, not so much about the wrestling, but the event and getting people to enjoy the sport,” he continued.  “It is huge that [wrestling] does things to increase the visibility, increase awareness and increase the amount of fun.  There are too many tournaments where you have little Bobby wrestling two matches after sitting there all day.

“Look at the NBA.  It is what it is because it is fun and it is a spectacle, and, in my mind, we need to WWF-it-up.”

The match is scheduled to begin directly following the John Carroll school day, at 3:30 p.m., looking to add numbers to what is proven to be a wrestling match to remember.