Having All-Met wrestling twins like DeMatha High School's Kurt and Karl Tamai in the house keeps a mother very busy.
Dorothy Tamai hasn't had to referee any impromptu wrestling matches for the family Strato-Lounger at TV movie time recently, but she does have to try to keep pace with her sons' hectic schedules.
Besides being on the honor roll at school, leading their Boy Scout troop and earning second-grade brown belts in judo, seniors Kurt and Karl are the core of a DeMatha wrestling squad picked to win this year's Metro Conference championship.
"In the past four years, they are the best we've had, and they probably will be the best to come along for a long time," says Coach Dick Messier. "Very few wrestlers have the combination of balance, skill and aggressiveness that they possess."
Last year as juniors, both were named All-Met for their individual Metro Conference titles and their outstanding performances at the National Prep Tournament.
Kurt, wrestling at 112 pounds, took first place, and Karl placed second at 119. A repeat performance is possible for both. "If they continue their pace so far, I see them going just as far this year," says Messier.
The national tournament allows prep grapplers from as far away as Texas, Maine and Florida test themselves against a field of the Middle Atlantic's best private school wrestlers. Many wrestling styles are represented.
"You have to shoot for the finals," says Karl.
"The Nationals are the highlight of your season. You are constantly working for them," adds Kurt.
However, because of their notoriety, it may be a little bit harder to get those wins this year. Karl says, "Before, no one knows about you. You just go out there and you beat them and you surprise a few people. Now, everyone knows about you. They're watching you."
Kurt agrees. "People are coming after you now that they know who you are. It's definitely a disadvantage," he says.
Any Tamai opponent must overcome a wrestling style heavily influenced by the brothers' dedication to judo. Since age 8, they have studied under their father Kenneth, head instructor of the Beltsville Judo Club.
According to Messier, "Their judo experience is very helpful to them. It's important to their balance and helps them in leverage. Sometimes it gets them a bit overextended, but their good sense of balance tells them to readjust. A lot of guys don't like to wrestle them on their feet because of their judo-inspired throws."
Dorothy Tamai also credits judo for part of her sons' success. "The boys get their drive from their father's judo. They've got a lot of fight, but it's not meanness."
Kenneth Tamai concedes, "I push them to put out their maximum -- in judo and everything else. Even if they are way ahead in a match, they don't sit back. They are always pushing."
The boys agree that their judo experience -- both have reached the rank of Nikyu, only two steps away from a black belt -- is "a big advantage." Judo and wrestling have many similarities.
Kurt says, "They both have an art to them, and both have throws and pins. Karl feels that "judo helps your upper body throws and your working on the mat."
There are certain advantages to training together in both sports: "When Kurt hits a move successfully that I don't usually do, I know I have a good chance of doing it," says Karl.
Since they are the same weight, they have to wrestle off to see who stays in the lighter division.
"The competition is immense. But it's also a help. Your brother is there to help you when you need it." says Kurt.
Their mother agrees. "They give each other the support they need. They compete with themselves rather than each other."
According to Messier, "They take whatever their opponent gives them and turn it to their advantage."
Much of this can be traced to judo. "A lot of judo is using what your opponent gives you. When you adapt judo to wrestling, you know what to look for," Kurt says.
When the twins came out for wrestling as freshman, they already had years of judo experience but little of the formal wrestling instruction some other boys had picked up in Boys Club competitions. Their older brother Kevin was already on the team. Kurt says, "We thought it would be a great thing to follow in his footsteps. It looked like fun."
"We never thought those two little ragamuffins who came in their freshman year would turn out to be such a bright spot for the whole program," said Messier, who has been coaching the team since its formation seven years ago. "Their first year, they went through their learning process, their apprenticeship. Their second year, they went through the journeyman stage. And in their junior and senior years, they have displayed a mastery of their craft."
Like most master tradesmen, they are taking apprentices under their wing. As team captains, the Tamais help run practices and lead by example. Messier entrusts much of the lightweights' instruction to them. "Kurt is almost a third coach for the whole team. Karl is a little busier mastering his own craft."
Their response to the question, "What do you like most about wrestling?" mirrors Messier's assessment of their slightly different outlook.
Karl immediately responds, "Winning," while Kurt says, "I like the dual nature of the sport. You're going out on the mat for yourself, for your own personal glory, but at the same time you're going out to do a job for the team."
DeMatha wrestling has long been overshadowed by the school's more widely known teams. The Tamais hope to change that.
Karl says, "We're trying to get recognition." Kurt adds, "Everyone knows the DeMatha basketball team, but we've got a lot more than just basketball at this school."