Tammi Fischer of Damascus, who has two sons who wrestle, is a big believer in the sport as a way to build fitness, discipline and self-confidence.
So when Fischer noticed at a recent Maryland Junior Wrestling League match that grapplers on some Baltimore city teams had to share equipment, she decided to do something about it.
With the last league tournament coming up this weekend, Fischer said it’s a good time to ask anyone with outgrown or unused equipment to donate it.
“It’s the end of the season, and people will be getting rid of shoes,” she said.
Wrestling shoes can be easily washed. The teams can also use headgear, which is equipped with ear guards.
“Instead of throwing it out, we hope people will donate it,” she said.
Fischer said people are welcome to drop off equipment any time at marked bins outside Difference Makers Church on Bethesda Church Road in Damascus.
Donations will benefit the McKim Nights, based at the McKim Center on Orleans Street in Baltimore, and the Baltimore Centaurs, a relatively new team formed three years ago by onetime wrestlers at McKim.
The teams also welcome donated medical kits, with nose plugs and tape for wrapping, and money in the form of checks to help cover league fees, referee fees and traveling expenses.
McKim coach Keir Hicks said the equipment they have received so far was welcome.
“It has really helped out,” he said.
Fischer, a health technician at Stonegate Elementary School in Silver Spring, said she hopes the project will spread beyond Damascus.
“The kids in the suburbs, we have so much more,” said Fischer, who has lived in Damascus since her high school years.
As a young girl, she and her family had very little money.
“I do get it,” Fischer said. “I had nothing growing up. Everything was a hand-me-down or from a thrift store.”
“It just means something to me that kids have something newer that’s in good shape,” she said.
Fischer’s oldest son, Johnny, a sophomore at Damascus High School, was one of 16 wrestlers who made it to the state finals. Her younger son, Joey, is wrestling for the Damascus Cougars in the youth league.
At a recent match in the Damascus Volunteer Fire Department activities building, Fischer collected donated shoes and headgear. She gave it to the McKim Center, which has been running a youth wrestling program since 1953.
“I think anybody who looks beyond their own personal interests and thinks of the children is aces in my book,” McKim coach Ron Jackson said about Fischer’s efforts.
Darin Allen and his brother Caldwell Veale started the nonprofit Baltimore Centaurs three years ago for boys 5 to 14. David Hollingsworth also coaches the team.
“A lot of inner-city kids live at the poverty level and their parents can’t afford to participate,” said Allen, who lives in Baltimore and began wrestling at age 7 at McKim.
“It was to get me off the streets,” Allen said. He kept at it through high school and ended up winning a full scholarship to Morgan State University in the late 1980s.
Without wrestling, Allen said, he wouldn’t have made it to college.
“It teaches discipline, responsibility, mental toughness and conditioning,” he said.
Wrestling also means learning rules and regulations, which helped him go from being a poor student in school to a good one, Allen said. He is pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling at Bowie State University.
The sport’s future with the Olympics is uncertain. Last month, the International Olympic Committee decided to discontinue wrestling starting in 2020, but it could reverse the decision this spring.
Like Fischer, Allen said kids often go for more popular sports such as basketball and football. What they might not realize is that training for wrestling also is good for football.
“Ray Lewis wrestled in high school,” Allen said, referring to the retiring Baltimore Ravens star. “It gives you extra conditioning.”
But it also takes time to learn.
“It’s a tough sport, and you don’t find instant success,” he said. “You lose a lot at first, before you start winning, but your confidence builds up over time. You can see it.”
The two Baltimore groups also are working with a new nonprofit organization called Beat the Streets, which formed last year and is introducing wrestling to Baltimore middle schools.
“We’re trying to help these kids stay off the streets,” Hicks, the McKim coach, said. “We’re trying to turn these young boys into men. We’re trying to save these kids’ lives.”