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Death of man, 25, at Severn wrestling school ruled accidental

Police say athlete hit his head during practice

By Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun

2:34 PM EST, January 26, 2012

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An aspiring professional wrestler died last week after he struck his head while practicing maneuvers at a Severn wrestling school, Anne Arundel County police said Wednesday.

Quentin Latrell Washington, 25, of District Heights in Prince George's County died Friday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center of injuries he sustained last Thursday evening at Gillberg's Pro Wrestling Academy.

An investigation by homicide detectives uncovered no indication of foul play or suspicious circumstances surrounding Washington's death, police said.

No one responded to a knock on the door Wednesday afternoon at Gillberg's, which is open most evenings and occupies a warehouse space in a quiet corner of the county. Academy officials also did not return a call for comment.

Gillberg's, in the 7800 block of Sandy Farm Road, opened in July 2010. It trains future professional wrestlers, ring referees, managers and valets in "the art of professional wrestling the way that it should be..... PROFESSIONAL!!!," according to a Facebook page for the group.

The academy, which features locker rooms and two wrestling rings, was founded by former WWE light heavyweight champion Duane "Gillberg" Gill, who calls himself a 22-year ring veteran, according to the Facebook page.

Schools opened by former wrestlers are common throughout the country and serve as training grounds for people who hope to become pros.

Patrick Pannella, executive director of the Maryland State Athletic Commission, said the state does not regulate professional wrestling schools and gyms. The commission, part of state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, does regulate the wrestlers, referees, valets and promoters who participate in professional wrestling events in the state.

Pannella said he knows of no states that regulate wrestling schools. In 2011, at least 45 commission-sanctioned pro-wrestling events were held in Maryland. As few as 12 and as many as 54 wrestlers participated in each event, he said.

Neighboring states, including Pennsylvania and Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia, also oversee the events, Pannella said.

"Safety is always priority No. 1," Pannella said.

Pannella said the state requires pro wrestlers and referees to undergo a physician's exam two hours before a match in addition to an annual exam. During the yearly licensing process, Pannella said, the wrestler must demonstrate to the commission that he or she is properly trained, in addition to other steps in the licensing process.

Washington was not licensed, Pannella said.

"The commission extends its deepest condolences to the family of this wrestler," he said. "We are deeply saddened by this loss."

Pannella described injuries at the sanctioned matches as rare, pointing to the licensing process for the athletes and the commission's rules governing acceptable maneuvers in the ring.

"It's no secret that a majority of wrestling maneuvers are choreographed," he said. "While that may be true, it does not mean that individuals are not engaging in physically demanding activities, which warrant proper training and requires them to undergo the appropriate medical examinations."

Still, the sport can prove dangerous.

Darren Drozdov, a former University of Maryland football player who traded in his NFL jersey for flashy wrestling costumes, was paralyzed during a 1999 WWE match in Long Island and now uses a wheelchair.

In 2011, Maryland had a handful of injuries that required medical treatment, including a biceps tear, hip dislocation, broken ankle, face laceration and a possible concussion.

One precaution the state built into its regulations is to outlaw a wrestling practice known as "blading," or inflicting wounds to produce blood by grinding objects into one's forehead, skull or body, Pannella said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

Due to incorrect information from Anne Arundel County Police, Quentin Latrell Washington's middle and last name were wrong in earlier versions of this story. The Sun regrets the error.

ywenger@baltsun.com