The moment is ingrained in Alfred Bannister’s memory. His seat on the very edge of the mat at McDonogh School, the roar of the crowd in the third period of that 2009 Maryland Independent Schools state championship match: “Come on! Shoot! Shoot!”
Bannister remembers it all. But what he remembers most from that day is the sight of his older brother, Andrew, after a crushing, controversial defeat against McDonogh’s Albert Woody. With the loss, the 2008 All-Met also lost his shot at a fourth consecutive state title.
“That was the moment,” Bannister said last week as he stared at the ground, nodding. “That was like, I need four. I need four.”
Today, Alfred Bannister — nicknamed “Baby J” — has firmly established himself as the most dominant wrestler in the area. The McNamara senior and Maryland signee has won four Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships, two Beast of the East titles and one National Preps crown. With a career record of 262-8, he is the winningest high school wrestler in Maryland history.
Before all of those accolades, though, Bannister had a straightforward and attainable goal: He wanted to be a four-time state champion. And he will get his chance this weekend as the top-seeded 145-pounder at the MIS state tournament at McDonogh. Due to weather, the preliminary rounds will be held Saturday with the finals on Sunday afternoon.
“Honestly, it’s not the national things that push me,” Bannister said. “I just want to be a four-time state champ. It means the world to me to accomplish that.”
Winning four state titles is a rare feat, but it has an added layer of meaning for Bannister after he watched his older brother fall just short. Andrew, who now wrestles at Notre Dame (Ohio), was favored to win as a senior five years ago but couldn’t complete a takedown late in the championship match.
The brothers have been training partners since Alfred was 5 years old. Even after Andrew went to college, they still spent their summers together in the gym.
“They know each other’s styles, so they know how to make each other better,” their father and McNamara volunteer assistant coach A.J. Bannister said. “‘Baby J’ is exceptional on his feet when he wrestles. Andrew is more of a top wrestler. . . . When they wrestle each other, they only make each other better.”
While his older brother is passive and calculating on the mat, Bannister has become known for his explosive and unpredictable style.
In the championship match at the St. Albans tournament last week, for example, DeMatha’s Lewis Riggs used both of his arms to control one of Bannister’s in what is called a Russian armbar. Unfazed, Bannister spun 360 degrees to his right, grabbed Riggs’s leg and pinned him in 1 minute 27 seconds.
“Some wrestlers are strong and some wrestlers are quick. Well, he’s both strong and quick,” McNamara Coach Paul Wicks said. “And he’s four steps ahead of you. You think you know what he’s doing, you’re trying to catch up, and then boom — you’re grasping at air.”
Wicks said he wouldn’t be surprised if Bannister is competing for an NCAA national championship in the next few years, praising the two-time All-Met’s mental toughness in addition to his physical skills and work ethic. Those are just some of the characteristics for which Bannister will be most remembered when he moves on to College Park in the fall.
When asked to describe his high school legacy, Bannister took a long pause.
“I want people to remember me as a beast. Just a monster on the mat,” he said. “And one of the best in Maryland, if not the best to come through Maryland.”
For now, however, Bannister is focused on this weekend. In the finals, he likely would face a McDonogh wrestler — former Broadneck All-Met Cameron Harrell — in McDonogh’s gym, just like his older brother did.
“I’d tell him, don’t let the match come down close enough to where one small mistake can mess up everything,” Andrew Bannister said. “Dominate the match, every aspect, so it won’t be close in any way.”
Alfred plans on doing just that. He wants to win a fourth state title for both of them.