Wrestling has never been a particular attraction on the high school level in this area.
It is not a smooth or graceful sport, and offers little appeal for most athletes. Fans tend to be even less interested. Yet, the negatives have not dampened the enthusiasm of one Colesville resident: national 116-pound wrestling champ James R. Burns.
"The lack of student interest and publicity does not bother me," said Burns, a 17-year-old junior at St. Johns High School. "I enjoy the challenge of being one on one with another individual, to determine who is better. You don't rely on anyone else but yourself, and there are less chances of serious injury."
Burns took up the sport 10 years ago after encouragement from his father -- James J. Burns, a veterinarian at Four Corners Animal Hospital -- whose own father had wrestled.
While the young Burns admits he was not enthusistic about wrestling at first, he says the thrill of victory has a way of changing attitudes.
"At first I wasn't that sure I would become serious about it, but after I started winning a few times, I began to really enjoy it," said Burns. "It seemed almost natural to me."
Burns gained confidence and experience through Olney Boys Club and the YMCA. By the time he was a freshman at St. Johns, it was obvious he was going to be something special.
He went on to post a 13-1 mark in his first season. The following season, he compiled a 29-1 record, and was voted most outstanding wrestler in the prestigious St. Albans Tournament, which features the top wrestlers from the District, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Despite has outstanding record, Burns' season ended on a somewhat disappointing note. He finished second in the national championships for 116-pounders.
"I was a bit surprised that I made it that far," he said. "But once you get that far and you don't win, it can be disappointing."
More determined than ever, Burns came back to have an outstanding season this year. He culminated an undefeated 34-0 season by winning the national championship for 116-pounders. He did it in impressive fashion, putting together a streak of five straight victories before capturing the title with a 6-3 score at the championships at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., where more than 180 prep and high schools from all over the country were represented.
As in any successful athletic endeavor, hard work plays a great part. Burns practices almost three hours a day, five days a week, on exercises and techniques. He occasionally spends time working on the Nautilus, a universal exercise machine, to improve muscle tone.
Coaching has also been instrumental in his development. Mike DeSarno, a wrestling coach for 21 years, five of them at St. Johns, has refined Burns skills, and Burns gives his coach credit.
"Coach DeSarno has been great," he said. "He has helped with the development of my techniques. It has been a great advantage to have a coach with his knowledge of wrestling."
Burns' national title had a slight twist to it. He competed at 19 pounds below his normal weight of 135.The interesting thing is that it was done by design.
"I was at somewhat of a disadvantage because of my weight," said Burns. "I had to control my diet and work on the Nautilus to stay at 116. By wrestling at that weight, I assured myself of the championship.
"I was awfully weak at times, but I was determined to win that championship."
As Burns looks ahead to his senior year, father James J. and mother Judith Ann -- a realtor for Snyder Brothers Realty Co. -- appear to be preparing two more potential stars from the family.
Younger brother Brendan, 15, recently captured the Boys Clubs National Championship for 75-pounders. Brendan is a 9th grader at White Oak Junior High School and wrestles for Wheaton Boys Club. Brother Billy -- at 12, the youngest member of the Burns family -- already has won the Wheaton Boys Club Intramural Championships three times and the Maryland Boys Clubs State Champsionship. He is a pupil at St. Andrews Elementary in Silver Spring, and also wrestles for Wheaton Boys Club. Perhaps a tradition has begun.