Gina Orlando didn't want her son Anthony to join the W.T. Woodson High wrestling team. She thought it was a brutal sport and she wasn't crazy about the idea of him losing weight to make the team.
Neither mother nor son was familiar with the sport. Two years ago, Anthony, then a sophomore, had played soccer and baseball. He had not thought about wrestling until his neighbor Rob Flikeid, a member of the Woodson team, suggested he try out.
Orlando failed to make the varsity and didn't start for the junior varsity until later that season, when the 98-pound starter went out with an injury. But with only three matches under his belt, Orlando placed second in the Northern District meet.
In his junior year, Orlando impressed everybody by posting a 26-1 record and capturing the district, region, and state titles at 98 pounds.
Now his mother comes to all his matches and is his biggest fan. "I can always hear her screaming above all the other people," Orlando said.
"I didn't like wrestling at first, but as I got to know it better, I began to appreciate it," said Gina Orlando. "Now I go to every match and really can't control myself. I know he hears me above all the others and I think it helps him."
Woodson Coach Paul Labazzetta attributes Orlando's rapid success to his hard work and determination. Labazzetta first noticed Orlando's wrestling ability in a ninth-grade physical education class.
"I encourage all ninth-graders to try out for the team, but Anthony displayed exceptional determination," Labaczetta said. "In his JV year, he started slow and even last year, as a junior, I never expected him to make the varsity with only one year of experience. He proved me wrong and has exceeded all my expectations."
Orlando didn't have high expectations when he began to wrestle. But the highly competitive nature of the sport has helped him excel, he said.
"Baseball was boring and soccer just wasn't for me," he said. "But wrestling is very competitive, a way to get out all your energy. I could really get into it."
Other wrestlers in his weight class wish he could get out of it.
In his junior year, Orlando got off to a fast start, winning his first five matches. Then he met Herbie Monroe from Hermitage High School and lost a 12-10 decision.
"It was a close match and it inspired me a lot," Orlando said. "In wrestling you have to have confidence in yourself and I tried not to lose confidence after that loss."
Following that defeat, Orlando regained all the confidence he needed and beat the next 21 opponents he faced. He defeated Robinson's Scott Holmes, 6-1, to win the Northern District. In the Northern Region championship match, Joe De la Cruz from Herndon was Orlando's victim, falling, 7-2.
To complete his first full season of wrestling, Orlando faced Yorktown's Aaron York for the state title. Neither wrestler scored in regulation, but Orlando scored one point in overtime to take the championship.
"He is a very intelligent wrestler," Labazzetta said. "He doesn't make many mistakes. He is the kind of wrestler that takes whatever is given him and doesn't try to force anything. And he does the extra stuff, like Nautilus, running and basic conditioning -- that keeps him in shape all year."
Following his championship season, Orlando continued to work on improving his skills. He participated in two summer camps and feels he is a better wrestler year because of it.
"They showed me a lot more moves and improved my skill," he said of his camp instructors. "I try to wrestle the best I can. If I get a pin, that's OK, and if I win by points, that's OK, too."
This year, Orlando is 8-0 with six pins. He likes the fact that he is now on top of his weight class and that other, younger wrestlers are out to beat him.
"Knowing everybody is out to get me makes me wrestle better," he said.
Like most talented athletes, Orlando attributes a large part of his success to his coach. He says Labazzetta gives him a lot of support and confidence and that he is always there to tell him what he is doing wrong. Coaches around the region won't argue with that, but some feel that Orlando's skill and determination set him apart from the rest.
"Orlando is an excellent wrestler," said Robinson Coach John Epperly, whose team is a perennial powerhouse in the region. "He works very hard and is one of the strongest boys I've run into in that weight class in a while. It's hard to break into the varsity lineup as quickly as Anthony did, and his first year, he beat one of my boys (Holmes), giving him his only loss of the year."
"He is a very methodical wrestler," said Fort Hunt Coach Steve Foglio. "He doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He is very smooth. He sets up his moves well and finishes them well. He doesn't give up many points."
Orlando's success gives his younger teammates inspiration to keep up their hard work. "He gives young kids the desire to improve and win just by example," Labazzetta said.
All this success hasn't changed his attitude. He still works hard in practice and keeps his goals simple.
"I just take one match at a time," he said. "And, hopefully, I can repeat as state champ."
The odds are in his favor.