It wasn't too long ago that Dunbar didn't even have a wrestling team.
At Saturday's Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Class 2A-1A wrestling dual-meet championships at North Point, the Poets proved to the entire state that not only are they back, but they are ready to compete for titles.
No. 7 Dunbar became the first Baltimore City school to reach the dual-meet state finals, and though it ultimately came up short to Middletown, 36-25, coach Dwight Warren knows what his team accomplished as runner-up with only 11 varsity wrestlers is special.
"Considering the fact that all year long we have been carrying the burden of 18 points to forfeits before we even start — look at the final score there; if you take away 18 and maybe one or two matches, we won. But that's not real," said Warren, whose team beat North Caroline, 39-33, in a semifinal earlier in the day. "We wrestled a very good team, and we do have some aggressive and very talented kids here. We are in the position that we represented Baltimore City very well."
The Knights were one of many obstacles Dunbar has had to overcome this season. Douglas McClain had been building the program as coach, but he was placed on administrative leave before the season after being arrested on charges of dog fighting and possessing a stolen gun.
Senior Plevon Pryor, who won both his matches to improve to 30-2 on the season, said it's been a tough yet satisfying run.
"This is great. We made history. Most teams don't get this far. We've got to keep our heads up and come back next year and get the 'W,'" he said. "When I came in as a sophomore, I had to recruit, and a bunch of guys came in and practiced hard every day. We have just come so far. We have to be proud of ourselves. ... The loss of our coach is a big thing, but Coach Warren stepped in and helped us."
The Poets got off to a strong start against the Knights, as Dwayne Johnson (182 pounds), Prevon Pryor (195) and Jorden Pryor (220) each won close decisions to take a 9-0 lead. Middletown battled back, though, starting with heavyweight's Ed Guerrero's pin to cut the deficit to 9-6.
Dunbar freshman Will Lomax answered with a fall at 106 pounds, but the first of three forfeits awarded to the Knights at 113 pounds cut the Poets' advantage to 15-12. Quran Carter's major decision at 120 pounds made it 19-12, but another forfeit cut the lead to 19-18.
That's when Middletown's top wrestlers took over. Danny Bertoni, a 132-pound junior who has suffered just one defeat in his high school career, gave the Knights their first lead at 24-18 after a pin, and another forfeit extended it to 30-18.
Adam Bain (145) and Cam Farrow (152) sealed the state championship for the Middletown, as each won decisions to push the point advantage to 17, too much for the Poets to overcome with just two bouts remaining.
"Dunbar was easily one of the best teams we faced all year," said Knights coach Jim Schartner, whose team earned the title after losing in the finals to Oakland Mills a year ago. "I was very impressed with their technical skill, they had a great match strategy. ... I was very impressed with their team. Well done, very well done. They deserved to be here."
Warren said his team should be proud of going toe-to-toe with one of the top teams – public or private – in the state. He hopes the progression that McClain started continues into the Baltimore City Championships on Feb. 19-20, and the 2A-1A North regional tournament on Feb. 26-27.
"It's been a very rewarding season in the fact that a lot of work was put in to get these guys this far, and getting these kids to this level," he said. "Now the kids understand the next level up. That's what I want the kids to understand."
SEMIFINAL: NO. 7 DUNBAR 39, NORTH CAROLINE 33 (1A/2A semifinal)
170: Rayan Turnage (D) pinned Alex Grable (NC), 3:36 [6-0]; 182: Alex Eaton (NC) pinned Dwayne Johnson (D), 3:15 [6-6]; 195: Plevon Pryor (D) fft. [12-6]; 220: Jorden Pryor (D) pinned Ryan Rawlings (NC), :42 [18-6]; 285: William Smith (D) dec. Jacob Shultz (NC), 12-5 [21-6]; 106: Ryan Bauer (NC) dec. William Lomax (D), 15-9 [21-9]; 113: Jeramy Brockson (NC) fft. [21-15]; 120: Quran Carter (D) pinned Brandon McIntyre (NC), 3:57 [27-15]; 126: Seth Layton (NC) fft. [27-21]; 132: Chae Neale (D) pinned Mike Jantz (NC), 5:14 [33-21]; 138: Jared Koenig (NC) fft. [33-27]; 145: Connor McCormick (NC) dec. Avery Thurman (D), 7-5 OT [33-30]; 152: Tyler Bauer (NC) dec. Jemar Cannon (D), 4-1 [33-33]; 160: Kyleel Buckner (D) pinned Nick Zinkand (NC), 5:51 [39-33]
FINAL: MIDDLETOWN 36, DUNBAR 25
182: Dwayne Johnson (D) dec. Sean Herrmann (M), 3-2 [0-3]; 195: Plevon Pryor (D) dec. Tyler Clemmer (M), 4-2 OT [0-6]; 220: Jorden Pryor (D) dec. Sean Mullican (M), 9-5 [0-9]; 285: Ed Guerrero (M) pinned William Smith (D), :50 [6-9]; 106: Will Lomax (D) pinned Jason Guglielmini (M), 3:45 [6-15]; 113: Ethan Grossnickle (M) fft. [12-15]; 120: Quran Carter (D) major dec. Noah Grossnickle (M), 8-0 [12-19]; 126: Sean Farron (M) fft. [18-19]; 132: Danny Bertoni (M) pinned Chae Neale (D), 4:58 [24-19]; 138: Josh Paige (M) fft. [30-19]; 145: Adam Bain (M) dec. Avery Thurman (D), 6-5 [33-19]; 152: Cam Farrow (M) dec. Jemar Cannon (D), 7-2 [36-19]; 160: Kyleel Buckner (D) dec. Will Davis (M), 7-5 [36-22]; 170: Rayan Turnage (D) dec. Mert Gulen (M), 9-6 [36-25]