WOW, WHAT a ride!
The two-year odyssey of Patterson High School's Deshawn Barrett came to an end last week. June 5 was his graduation day. The program singled out Barrett for "outstanding athletic achievement."
A day later, Barrett was named The Sun's male athlete of the year. I've been following local high school sports for a long time, and Barrett's athletic journey - which started with an eligibility dispute in September of his junior year - has been one of the most fantastic stories in at least 40 years.
Trust me, I've seen nearly everything when it comes to high school sports. I watched both Chiaparrelli brothers - Lou and Rico - terrorize area high school wrestlers. I followed Dunbar basketball star Reggie Williams from the 1980-1981 season - when he was a gangly, sometimes-awkward, unsure sophomore - through his senior season.
I didn't attend the 1987 City-Poly football game at now-demolished Memorial Stadium, but I listened to what became known as "The Play" on the radio. City, which hadn't beaten Poly since 1969, sealed a victory on a wild run-pass-run touchdown that involved running back Paul Williams throwing to quarterback Chris Smith for the score.
I was in the stands at Morgan State University in 1993 when Poly's Greg Kyler won the game in the final seconds with an incredible snare of a touchdown pass.
I was at the Towson Center for the 1981 triple-overtime classic between the Dunbar and Calvert Hall basketball teams. (I still insist Lake Clifton's double-overtime victory over Dunbar at the Civic Center two weeks earlier for the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference title was a better game.)
I've seen just about all there is to see in Baltimore-area high school athletics in my 53 years, and I can tell you that what Barrett did this year tops it all. No other feat comes close to it. Every time I thought Barrett had given the outstanding performance of the wrestling season, he came back and topped it with an even more outstanding performance.
In early December, Barrett, a second-team All Metro football player, pinned his first two opponents in the Parkville tournament. Then he left early to play in an all-star football game and injured his ankle. Then he hobbled back to the wrestling tournament and still pinned his opponent in the 215-pound finals.
A couple of weeks later, he pinned Bowie's Zak Adomanis, second only to Barrett among Maryland 215-pounders this year. In March, he beat Adomanis by injury default.
"That was my toughest match - the state 4A/3A finals with Zak Adomanis," Barrett told me Monday night. "A whole lot of pressure was on me. A lot of people didn't think a city wrestler could win it."
With the pressure off, Barrett continued with one amazing achievement after another. In an all-star meet of state 4A/3A, 2A/1A and private-school wrestlers, he made short work of two other Maryland champions. It was a pressure-free Barrett who won by tech fall over Virginia AAA state champion Brent Jones a few days later in two dual meets of Maryland and Virginia all-stars. Jones was ranked No. 2 in the country at the time.
Barrett dismantled Jones after - after, mind you - he had a tough six-minute match with Matt Pellar, the Virginia AAA runner-up. Pellar injured Barrett's right arm with an illegal hold in that match.
In early April, Barrett went to the senior nationals, where he beat the No. 1-ranked 215-pounder in the quarterfinals, Jones for the second time in the semifinals and an Ohio state champion in the finals.
So what does Barrett plan to do with all that wrestling talent when he gets to college?
"I've been wanting to play football all my life, since I was a little boy," Barrett said. "I want to play in the NFL."
Wrestling is Barrett's best sport, but he wouldn't be the first athlete to play something other than his best sport professionally. And he's in good company. Consider this list:
Jackie Robinson - best sport, football; played professional baseball.
Willie Mays - best sport, football; played professional baseball.
Jim Brown - best sport, lacrosse; played professional football.
Bob Gibson - best sport, basketball; played professional baseball.
I can't blame Barrett for going where the money is. But I can thank him for the most fantastic season of high school sports I've ever seen. Will I ever see his like again?
It's too soon to tell. But Barrett's three younger brothers - Kevin, Shaquil and Dominick Barrett - all wrestle for the McKim Center, the junior league wrestling program where Deshawn first learned his skills.
Oh, I can hardly wait.