The list of public school state wrestling champions from the city is short.
When Poly's Dennis Scott won the heavyweight title in 1999, he became the first -- and only -- city public school wrestler to capture a state championship.
Matthew Oakley of Poly and DeShawn Barrett of Patterson want to give Scott some company. And so far this season, they've shown they're up to the task.
Oakley, a defending city and regional champ at 171 pounds, is 13-0 with 11 pins. Barrett, a 215-pounder, has pinned all 17 rivals in the first period.
"They're certainly capable, and, I think, the best shot we [the city] have," said Poly coach Wavie Gibson, who coached one of the seven city wrestlers to finish as a state runner-up when he was at Walbrook in 1994.
"They came into the city with a lot of talent and junior league success, and as far as winning states, they're the two guys with the most potential," said Gibson, a former two-time state champion at Mardela in Wicomico County. "I can still get in there and roll with Matthew a little bit, but he's gotten a lot tougher since last season, particularly on his feet. They're both very good at chain-wrestling and diversifying their moves."
Oakley, a senior, advanced to the state Class 2A-1A finals last season but fell short, 9-2, to defending champion Trey Kohl of Kent County, who has since graduated.
"Seeing [Oakley] lose last year was a big disappointment for everybody, and it made me want to get back out there," said Barrett, a junior who missed his sophomore season due to academic ineligibility after going 16-5 as a 160-pound freshman at Mervo. "Letting my grades slip, that was the biggest mistake I've ever made, but I'm more dedicated now. We have to stay focused in school and wrestle our match if we're going to go out there and bring a state championship back to the city."
That's what was expected of the duo as far back as three years ago, when they were wrestling partners and two of the more gifted competitors in the McKim Center's junior league program.
Coached by Ron Jackson and Dunbar graduate Bruce Pendles at McKim, Oakley finished second at 150 pounds in the junior league state tournament with a 28-1 record. Barrett went 31-0, earning Outstanding Wrestler honors at 140 pounds in the same event.
Mervo coach Dwight Warren doubles as executive director of the McKim Center.
As former coach of a number of the program's most talented wrestling teams from the late 1960s until taking over at Mervo in 1989, Warren favorably compares Oakley and Barrett to some of the best wrestlers McKim has ever produced.
Guys like Pendles, a former Maryland Scholastic Association champ and a two-time state runner-up; the Matthews brothers, Marvin and Damon -- each a former MSA champ at Dunbar in the 1970s; and Bobby Franklin, who went undefeated throughout his career at City College and was named the MSA's Outstanding Wrestler as a senior in 1970.
"A lot of my past wrestlers might want to kick me for saying this, but these two guys have the ability to be right up there," said Warren, who nicknamed Barrett "Butter" for his ability to flow from one move to the next.
"They were already naturally talented when they came to McKim. That's what separates them from a lot of the other city wrestlers is their ability to fall back on their junior league experience," Warren added. "But it's a long way from junior leagues to the high school state championships, and what will earn a title is how far their conditioning takes them, and how tough they are, mentally, against wrestlers with similar backgrounds and abilities."
In Thursday's dual meet at Poly, the two wrestlers tried to outdo each other in a meet won by the host Engineers (5-2, 5-0 Baltimore City league).
Oakley pinned Patterson's Stanley Epps in 1:31 and Barrett followed with a fall in 1:38 over Poly's Leonardo Apolonio.
"DeShawn and I used to wrestle all the time and he was pretty much better than me until the last year when my weight and maturity became more of a factor," said Oakley, 17. "He'd win, I'd win -- we were always going back and forth. It was a friendly rivalry, but it was always intense. The important thing is that we pushed each other -- just like we're pushing each other now."