Mike Flemming, head wrestling coach at Westminster High School, was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame earlier this month for his dedication to the sport. His most memorable moments haven’t been the countless matches, he said, but rather seeing his students grow, on and off the mat.
Flemming, 51, was inducted into the hall of fame during a Nov. 14 ceremony in Annapolis, held by the Maryland chapter of the organization. During his career he has produced 31 county champions and 12 regional champions. Of his 64 wrestlers who have qualified for the state tournament, 12 ultimately became state finalists and five were state champions.
Flemming said his favorite part about the sport is “the bonds that grow between the wrestlers themselves and some of the coaches.”
He first heard he was nominated for the hall of fame toward the end of last school year. John Lowe, a wrestling coach at Winters Mills High School who was inducted in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2012 and who has known Flemming since 1990, nominated Flemming.
When he was notified of his selection just before the start of this school year, Flemming described his reaction as “disbelief.”
“It just made me extremely grateful for all the people I met throughout my life who helped me grow as a wrestler and grow as a person,” he said.
During the ceremony, Flemming watched as inductees from the last 20 years were honored.
“To see all these people I’ve known and walked aside, to be held to the same esteem as them was mind-boggling,” he said.
As a high school student-athlete living near Philadelphia, Flemming initially focused on football. He joined the wrestling team as a sophomore in order to improve his tackling, and his involvement in the sport never ended.
“Once you get started with wrestling … it becomes part of your yearly grind,” he said.
As a student at Western Maryland College, now known as McDaniel College, Flemming played lacrosse and eventually also pursued wrestling. His interest was sparked by working at a six-week wrestling camp at the U.S. Naval Academy.
At the camp he had the “opportunity to work with some of the best of the best,” he said. “It was all about learning.”
Flemming pursued a degree in education as a way to give back, inspired by his “incredible” coaches who helped him as a wrestler, student and overall person.
Now, one of the wrestlers Flemming once coached is also a coach himself. Garrett Vandervalk works as Flemming’s assistant coach, and is a teacher at Friendship Valley Elementary School.
“That’s been one of the neatest things,” Flemming said. “When we have someone come back to the program to help.”
Flemming’s first job was as an English teacher at Liberty High School; he stayed for 23 years, coaching the wrestling team for 17 years and producing 254 wins.
Flemming transferred from Liberty to Westminster High School in 2015. He said his two oldest children have already graduated from Westminster High. Though he wished he was in the same building while they were in high school, he has two other children who will be students there soon.
He said his family is his first priority, and he tries to pass on that mindset to his athletes. He tells his wrestlers “put family first,” academics second and sports third.
“As a head coach, you’re always caught in … making sure you spend that time with family, but always making sure your student athletes succeed,” he said.
He thanked wife Melanie and children Samantha, Emerald, Stevie and Trey “for allowing me to help others.”
Ryder Eckenbarger, a Westminster High wrestler, said Flemming helps the team get in the right mindset and insists on “perfect practicing.” The junior said his coach also helps students with determination, often saying that “quitting is not the way out.”
Sean Ensign, an assistant wrestling coach at Westminster, said Flemming gives other coaches flexibility they need to do what’s best for students. “He’s an excellent person to work with,” he added.
Flemming is looking forward to starting the current competitive wrestling season, outside of the strict pandemic protocols of last season, which he described as “a little surreal.”
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He credited Terry Molloy, Westminster’s athletic director, and Mike Duffy, Carroll County Public Schools’ supervisor of athletics, for making the season happen, despite all of the difficulties associated with pandemic competitions.