More than 20 years ago, Donna and Patrick Kilcarr started their family on a path that has traveled through the Reservoir wrestling team for much of the past decade.
Their two oldest sons — Payton, 25, and Bryce, 23 — both wrestled for the Gators and return regularly for their brothers' matches. Mason, a junior, and twins Trent and Troy, both sophomores, currently wrestle on the varsity squad. Reese, a 13-year-old member of the Howard County Vipers travel team, is waiting in the wings.
Their sister, Delaney, 8, was adopted from Russia 6 1/2 years ago. She likes wrestling with her brothers, but her future path may be off the mat.
"We had always hoped for a daughter, but it never happened." Donna said. "We always got boys. We decided there is more than one way to get a girl, and we went all the way to Russia to get her."
When the Kilcarrs walked into the wrestling room to have a photograph taken recently, the smell that met them was unmistakably pungent.
"It was either going to be a kiss or to ask for money," Donna said as she smiled.
While Donna and Patrick got divorced in 2011, they share the responsibility of transporting their children to various practices and matches.
"Donna does the lion's share, but I try to be as available as I can," said Patrick, the director of Georgetown University's Center for Personal Development and an adjunct teacher. "I grew up in a family with a father I hadn't seen much of in my life. I didn't want to be that kind of father. And now I look at my family, and they're all really wonderful. They genuinely care for both Donna and me."
The parents attend all the matches, as do grandparents and the other children who are not wrestling.
"There is no better thing than to watch your three younger siblings, who are all pretty good and carrying on the family tradition," said Payton, who routinely sends words of encouragement in text messages to his brothers before matches. "The bar is set higher with each one."
The Kilcarr boys have become more skilled through the years, learning that the sport is as much mental as it is physical, as well as the importance of keeping emotions in check during a match.
"I get nervous for them," said Donna, who was a stay-at-home mother for 22 years before returning to work as a substitute teacher. "Not that they'll get hurt, but it's such an individual sport and the spotlight is directly on them when they're on the mat. They don't like to lose, and it's really hard to see them low."
Mason wants to win a state championship, something a Kilcarr has yet to do. He also wants to be the first family member to wrestle in college.
"They're a pretty awesome family," Reservoir coach Andy McIntyre said. "They're all quality wrestlers. They know what it takes to be a good wrestler. They bring team chemistry. No one is worried about being in each other's shadow, and they're all very similar — very intense and very aggressive — with subtle differences. Troy is methodical, Mason is strongly intense, and Trent splits the difference.
"I'd think it would be pretty crazy dealing with six or seven kids at home wrestling. But they're all great kids."
Delaney, the youngest Kilcarr child, is currently more interested in gymnastics, but McIntyre said that even if she doesn't want to try out for the team — and Donna is doing everything she can to encourage her daughter not to wrestle — she is welcome to be the team manager when she gets older, if she wants to be part of the family tradition.
"Team manager would be good," said Delaney, whose brothers refer to her as "our little gem" and "a toughie."
Patrick is proud of his children, but when asked if there has been a special moment he remembers — a match or a victory — that has made him particularly proud, the memories he shares are losses.
The elder Kilcarr said that society today seems to reward every child on a team just for showing up and he wants his kids to earn their respect, not just have it handed to them.
"Losing, not getting what you want, is part of life and we have to deal with it with respect," Patrick said. "Wrestling teaches that and it carries over to the real world. Unless you're Cael Sanderson (who went 159-0 over four years at Iowa State), everybody loses. I want my kids to learn how to lose with honor and appreciate the opportunities they've had. If they win, they've earned it.
"Four years ago, at the [Maryland State Wrestling Association junior] states, Mason lost a match, as did Trent and Troy. Afterward, the father of another wrestler and the coordinator of the tournament wrote me a long letter about what fine young men my sons are. He admired the way they had slapped the other kids on the shoulder [in congratulations] as they had walked to shake the hands of the coaches. Their actions showed a deep respect for the other wrestler and the sport.
"It was very special to me, and I read the letter to them."
The family was introduced to the sport when Patrick, who wrestled in high school at Bishop O'Connell in Virginia in the 132- to 145-pound weight classes, started playing with his children on the living room floor. It was a tradition that continues to this day — now on the wrestling mat in the basement.
"They beat up on me," said Reese, the youngest son. "But it's always fun. It's a good beating up."
While all the boys have tried other sports — flag football, baseball, lacrosse — wrestling has always had their hearts.
"It started with Dad," Payton said. "He introduced us to the sport. Then I started wrestling when I was 5, and eventually wrestled with the Vipers. That's really when it all began. All of us really picked up on the discipline part and the team aspects."
Donna, who has been to countless matches since Payton first joined the Burtonsville Wrestling Club in 1992, said the sport suits her sons' personalities, and it has been a good character-building activity over the years.
"We should be wrapping it up in five more years, when Reese is done," she said, and then another realization struck. "Well, Mason is showing an interest in college wrestling. It would start a whole new path."