Several young wrestlers laughed at a story told by Old Mill coach Mike Hampe Wednesday about a former pupil who jeopardized his wrestlingtalent for a shady life of bar fights and stints in jail cells.

Standing in the Old Mill High gymnasium, the 45-year-old coach is somewhere in the middle of his tale when he strikes a boxer's stance and throws a right cross past the chin of a nearby wrestler.

"And then he nails the guy," said Hampe, who then turned to one of his chuckling listeners. "You knew him, Pat, wasn't he nuts?"

"He was nuts," confirmed Pat Flynn, an Annapolis wrestler.

The laughter soon died and Hampe's message was clear: Don't end up like that guy.

Hampe, the Anne Arundel County Sun's Wrestling Coach of the Year, employs humor as he teaches wrestlers to be champions in life andon the mats.

"The first thing is to have fun. If it's not fun forme, I don't want to do it anymore," said Hampe, who has 160-22-3 record in 16 seasons. "I don't want it to be a job. It's got to be fun for me and them."

This year, the Patriots captured their sixth county title, their seventh Class 4A/3A Region IV title and their third Class 4A/3A state title. Old Mill is the first Class 4A/3A school to accomplish that feat. The Patriots also set county (203.5 points) and state (130.5) meet scoring records.

"We've been lucky to have pastwrestlers who did well, so we set a tradition and we just worked on that tradition," said Hampe, a former football and track star at Loch Haven (Pa.) State University who never wrestled competitively.

"Give the kids a reason for running at night and for having their headsbanged around every day.They'll do things above and beyond the call of duty.

"These kids pound-for-pound didn't have the records that last year's kids did and they were able to surpass them. They improved so much since the Annapolis tournament. You've got Vytas Dulys (112pounds) finishing third in the regions and winning a match in the states. Sun Park (189) is a 160-pounder who lost his positions to BrianLayman (160) and Ernie Longazel (171) so he goes up to 189 to help the team. I'm savoring all of those things right now and it just really feels good."

One thing that didn't feel good was losing a dual meet to Broadneck on Jan. 25. It was the Patriots' first loss in 33 matches.

"That was a gut-wrenching situation but you have to learn to be an actor. You couldn't tell how hard I was biting the inside of my cheek after that one," said Hampe.

"You have to learn how to handle that stuff. You want your kids to be a class act; you don't wantthem throwing headgears and you don't want them cussing out referees. If I throw temper tantrums and if I'm a jerk, then they think it's OK. I've got to set an example."

Most of all, he's got to have fun.

"Practice is never too serious, and he'll always joke around to keep the atmosphere light and humorous," said senior Brent Layman, a 135-pound state champion this year.

"(Hampe's) funny, until you lose," added junior heavyweight Don Marco, a county champion who was a runner-up in both the regional and state tournaments.

Said Hampe: "Some kids lose and get a pat on the shoulder and a 'That's OK, get 'em next time.' But I don't ever want to say that to a kid, because ifhe didn't do a good job, I want him to remember or he's going to do it again."

Marco said, "Last year I was a scrub. I went 18-11 or something. He got me working real hard, and we went to a lot of intensive tournaments and he was there watching. He takes a personal interest in everyone. He treats us like we're his kids and he's there for us when we need him."

Team members say Hampe cares about every one of them. Is Vytas Dulys effective on his takedown? Is Young Chang progressing? How about Rick Oleszczuk? Did he make weight?

After three years of mediocrity, senior 119-pounder Bob Sugden won a county title. Sugden attributes his success to what his coach has taught him.

"He always says 'remember who we are; remember we're Old Mill,' " he said. "When you're out there, you think of the team and you think of the coach. He talks about discipline, family and not messing up in life, and then, when it comes down to it, wrestling."

Hampe said, "Off the mat, you've got to let them know that you're not just using them. Being a part of somebody's life is really important. They can count on me; that's where I come from."

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