IN THE CONTINUING battle to prove amateur wrestling isn't just for guys anymore, Krystal Lovelist strode fearlessly to mat No. 1 at Northwestern High School Saturday afternoon.
She had just slipped out of her warm-up suit, pulled a hair-net over reddish-brown dreadlocks and snapped her headgear into place. Wearing a white T-shirt under her black City College singlet, she checked in at the scorer's table for her consolation match in the Baltimore City public schools tournament. She shook hands with her opponent, a boy from Carver High. With the referee's blow of the whistle the 125-pound match was on.
"He's trying to muscle her," a guy sitting behind me said as Carver's wrestler tried to use his upper body strength to maul Lovelist. "She can beat him if she shoots for his legs."
The guy, it turns out, knew what he was talking about. Further conversation revealed he was none other than Greg Watkins, City College's Maryland Scholastic Association champion in 1965 and 1966.
Watkins was a master technician. Guys who tried to muscle him invariably found themselves befuddled, outwrestled and totally humiliated.
City College wrestlers who came along after 1966 had to listen to coach Clark Hudak constantly talk up the legacy of Watkins and his partner in excellence, two-time MSA champion Larry McCoy. It was always "Watkins and McCoy, Watkins and McCoy," with Hudak, leading at least one wrestler to ponder how anyone could follow the Watkins-McCoy act.
Through an upper-body muscle move Carver's wrestler took Lovelist down and put her on her back. Trailing 8-0, Lovelist chose the neutral position - where both wrestlers are standing - to start the third period. With Watkins urging her to shoot for the boy's legs, Lovelist caused a brief surge of excitement among City College fans when she shot in for a single leg takedown. She couldn't finish it, but the technique was picture-perfect.
Lovelist, the team's manager last year, started wrestling three matches into this season.
"I wanted to test my endurance," she said after the Carver boy eventually pinned her and went on to take third place. "I was trying to get myself ready for the Army. I'm joining in July."
But why wrestling? Isn't this a sport for, like, well, guys?
Don't try to convince Lovelist of that.
"Everybody thinks it's only for boys," she said. "I wanted to prove them wrong."
Among the doubters was her mother.
"She didn't believe me when I told her I was going out for wrestling," Lovelist said. "She kept saying, 'Why do you want to do that?'"
Her mother asked her to try out for the swimming team.
Her uncles said they'd believe she was on the team when they saw her wrestle with their own eyes.
Her boyfriend? Well, he had a problem with the very idea of other guys being in such close contact with his girlfriend.
Some scoffers feel the same way, figuring having boys wrestle girls will lead the males to - putting it delicately - take advantage of the situation. But that hasn't happened yet. Wrestling is a sport for roughnecks with guys who are, paradoxically, often perfect gentlemen.
The physical contact may not be a problem, but boys figuring girl wrestlers are easy pickings is a view that persists. Lovelist does her best to disabuse opponents of that notion.
"When we first get on the mat, they laugh at me," she said. "But when they tie up with me and see how strong I am, they're like, 'Whoa!"
Bernie Leneau, City's coach, is a witness to that. He has scrimmaged with Lovelist during practice.
"I was surprised by how strong she was," said Leneau.
The only downside to wrestling that Lovelist sees is cutting weight. She has to pass on the Tuesday and Thursday night dinners when her family eats out. Leneau said she weighed between 125 and 130 pounds when she started, and she has wrestled both weight classes.
She could, if she wanted, probably cut to 119, but that weight class, at City College and for all Baltimore public schools, was strictly Nelson Moody country this year. Lovelist's teammate and co-senior won the outstanding lightweight award at the citywide tournament.
It's a pity Lovelist doesn't have one more year to wrestle. Leneau figures she would have beaten some guys. Watkins, seeing her in action Saturday, felt the same way. Lovelist gave a third to the motion.
"The thing is, the boys are a lot more experienced than me," she said. "If I had one more year, I could beat some of 'em."