Grappling at ‘the barn’


Elite wrestlers from across Maryland come to train at "the barn." (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
September 1, 2013

The place is easy to find if you know to look for the boulder painted dark red.

Tucked in the woods on a gravel drive in western Howard County, past the pond stocked with fish and the house of Coach Dan Ricker, is the Warhawks Wrestling Club’s practice facility, known as “the barn.” Wrestlers from all over the area, some of whom drive more than an hour, come “to work out with the best,” according to Ricker. Of the kids competing at the Maryland high school state championships last year, Ricker said 14 champions also wrestle for the Warhawks. “It was almost like a dual meet between us and the rest of the state of Maryland,” Ricker joked.

Ricker, 48, wrestled in high school and college and has coached the sport in high schools. He enjoys the discipline and work ethic it encouraged. “Football is my favorite sport to both play and coach,” he said. “Football is fun, but wrestling is necessary. Especially if you look at the way it builds young men.”

In 2006, Ricker started his club team. He spent two years renting practice space from schools and shuttling equipment when he decided he had enough. “I got frustrated and I said, ‘You know, I’ve got this land here and I’m going to build a barn,’ ” Ricker said. “So, [my wife] comes home one day and I’m out there with a machine digging a foundation.”

A builder by trade, Ricker benefited finanically from the strong housing market and felt passionately about his mission. “I just knew that I had to do it. And if I waited to come up with a plan it would just be forever. We had a good year building, and we built it.”

Season by season, he has added finishing touches to the barn. Interior drywall was first, then a ceiling and, last year, a concrete floor.

“Until last season we had the mats on dirt,” Ricker said. He added that Kyle Snyder — a two-time All-Met Wrestler of the Year at Good Counsel and a gold medal winner at the Junior World Championships in August — and others who have used the barn “love telling the story about wrestling on dirt floors. The mats were uneven and it was rough, but there’s a certain amount of pride in that.”

Last spring, the club charged a fee for the first time so it could add a bathroom to the barn.

“It’s certainly not the best facility,” Ricker admits, but it has mystique.

So do the Warhawks. Early on, the team began winning at the junior level, enticing more parents to drive longer distances for their kids to train. “You’ve got to go somewhere where kids can beat you to get better,” Ricker said. When the first group of Warhawks got to high school, Ricker found his club growing again. “You get one state champ, and the next thing you know you get another. Then, guess what? Everyone hears that they are here, and the next thing you know five more want to come.”

That’s fine with Ricker. One of the few honors not listed on the barn’s Wall of Fame is NCAA champion. Some of the best Warhawks head off to college next year.

8for More high school coverage: Go to allmetsports.com. Email ideas for More Than a Game to sandyst@washpost.com

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