Ballou High School's wrestling team has been the last of an endangered breed in the Interhigh League for three years now. Although wrestling thrives at many suburban and private schools, it is almost extinct in the Interhigh.

The Knights, under the direction of Coach Roosevelt Harriston, have continued to wrestle despite the fact that they have been the only Interhigh school to field a team for three years.

"I've got to admire the coach and his kids for sticking it out," said Archbishop Carroll Coach Rich Lane. "The program is in a tough situation and you have to figure that the guy is dedicated because the job he's doing is almost going unnoticed."

The Ballou wrestling team had been the best in the Interhigh during the late 1970s, when the league was at its peak in popularity with four schools participating. But for once, it wasn't budget reductions or cost cutting that hampered an Interhigh program -- it was interest.

"We were the first school in the league to have a wrestling team and then Cardozo, Ballou and Anacostia followed," said H.D. Woodson football coach Bob Headen. "We thought it was a great idea for the kids to wrestle, but it didn't attract much attention and soon our coach, Joe Taylor, left and the program died the next year."

The athletes competing in Ballou's program are usually football players intent on staying in shape between seasons.

"I wrestled at Ballou because it was a good way to condition myself, because wrestling is really a strenuous sport," said James Diggs, who wrestled for the Knights in the late 70s and went on to play football at Howard University. "Most of the other guys who participated were football players like myself who just wanted to stay in shape, but I thought it was fun and so did the other guys I wrestled with."

Last year, Ballou had a 10-member team, two short of a full squad. This winter, the number has dropped to nine, and the outlook isn't getting any better.

"We wrestle each other in practice, but we don't have enough guys for everyone to have a good workout so some of the guys get kind of frustrated," said sophomore Jeff Williams. "All of the other teams we wrestle against have better equipment and more wrestlers, so sometimes, it's tough on us. But we keep trying."

Not surprisingly, the Knights are 0-7. But according to Williams, the Knights will continue to wrestle as long as their coach is willing to keep the program. "We wrestle because we like it," he said. "And as long as we have a coach, we're gonna keep wrestling."

Though the popularity of Interhigh wrestling has declined in recent years, some remain optimistic about the sport's potential to rekindle among league schools.

"It's strictly interest that stops it from being succesful," said Headen. "We have some of the best athletes in the area in this league and there is no reason why it shouldn't do well. It would be great if every school had a Joe Taylor {who went on to coach football at Howard} or Roosevelt Harriston. They're dedicated to the sport and it reflects in the kids and the program."