The wrestling team at Paint Branch High School didn't spend much time celebrating its recent Maryland state championship performance.
Kevin Letheridge, a sophomore who took the state 98-pound title, left with his family for a Florida vacation only an hour after his team emerged with the crown from the two-day meet at Catonsville Community College. Early the next morning, senior Monte Schrock, who took fourth place at 132 pounds, underwent surgery to repair a double deviated septum he suffered from a broken nose early in the season. And Alan Pries, a senior who was runnerup at 155 pounds, decided to spend his newly acquired free time catching up on some of the homework he put off during the grueling wrestling campaign.
En route to becoming the first Montgomery Council school to win the state trophy since it was initiated in 1970, Paint Branch won the highly competition Oxon Hill Christmas Tournament and the county and Maryland Region I championships.
But the season was not without its disappointments for some team members. Pries and Schrock came to Paint Branch as freshmen in the fall of 1974, both with solid reputations and seemingly unlimited potential. Yet neither was able to achieve the goal they coveted most: winning the state tournament.
However, both said the team triumph lessened their personal frustrations.
"I hated to lose my last match in high school," Pries, who still managed to take home county and regional titles during his final two seasons. "But I never thought we'd do well in the county and regional, but I never dreamed of this."
"Yeah, I lost my last two matches," said Schrock from beneath the massive bandaging around his nose. "It sort of gets me upset that i didn't (win an individual title). But there's nothing I can do about it. It means a real lot to me winning the (team) state championship. It's something I never thought we could do."
Pries, who was 25-1-1 in 1977-78, finished his high school career with a 70-9-2 record. Schrock, who was last year's county champ and this year's runnerup, was 21-5 as a senior and 59-12-3 for his four high school years.
The state title left Panther coach Dave Simon talking about retirement, although talk about quitting is as popular a post season discussion in among suburban Maryland high school coaches as endless eating is for the wrestlers who no longer have to watch their weight limits.
"I've been a wrestler and a coach since I was 12, and I'm 31 now," said Simon, who also teaches algebra and trigonometry. "Now I'm just getting a little tire of it. It's just not a four-month job to me here at Paint Branch. It's pretty much life for six years."
If Simon returns, he'll have to get used to the absence of the familiar faces of Schrock, Pries, four-year starter Glen Bliss (119 pounds), four-year veteran Duane Coffman (185 pounds) and three-year starter Rich Patterson at 126 pounds. The friendship between coach and team members tended off the mat.
"There hasn't been one match in four years that they knew in a dual meet or tournament that they had to win for the team that they let us down," Simon said of Pries and Schrock. "I really have become very close to them. I'm really going to hate to see them go. You can't spend as much time as I have with them for four years and not expect to grow close to them, especially considering what kind of people they are. They were really true champions.
"I not only became close with them. I became close with their families."
"I'll miss them (Simon and assistant coach Butch Hilliard) a lot," Pries said. "They put a lot of work into Monte and me and the others, and they're not just concerned about whether you win. They check to see how you're doing in class."
Simon cited neighborhood support as a main reason for the prosperity of the entire Paint Branch athletic program, which became the first in Montgomery County to produce state titles in four majors sports with football and baseball crowns in 1975-76 and a basketball championship last year.
The Wrestling Parents Club "has never raised less than $1,000 (per season) and once raised $2,000," Simon said. "The school is so community oriented. The community backs us everything we do whether we win or lose."