The History of Kettering, Bowie, and Southern Maryland Wrestling
1970s to 2014
Tracing its roots back to the 1970's, the Kettering Boy's and Girl's Club beltway program was considered the foundation program for a large number of Southern Maryland's and PG County's most successful wrestlers. Over the years, many other wrestlers as well have used Kettering, Bowie, or other SMWC sponsored programs as the springboard to develop their own wrestling abilities. This is the story of Kettering, Bowie, and the foundations of Southern Maryland Wrestling Club.
The current SMWC evolved originally from the Kettering Cougars, a youth team sponsored by the Kettering Boys and Girls Club in Upper Marlboro. The club was founded in the early 1970s by Doug Jones.
Two youth teams were initially maintained by Kettering. The strongest was a beltway level team practicing at Largo High School, while the other was a beginner junior league team practicing at Kettering Middle School. Various coaches helped with the club in the early years. When Tom Hogan took over from Fred Smith as head coach in the early 1980's, he brought in two new assistant coaches, Criss Toth, a former club member and Bruce Gabrielson, a former West Coast high school and college coach. Bruce's son Jason was the smallest member of Kettering's squad at 35 lbs.
Bruce became head coach at Kettering the following year and also started Kettering's off-season folkstyle wrestling program for both youth and high school wrestlers at Kettering Middle School about 1985 and then moved off-season practices to Largo HS about 1986 or 1987.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, another beltway level youth club sponsored by Bowie Boys and Girls Club practiced at Bowie HS. The BBGC Beltway team was formed in the early 70's as a follow-on to the Bowie intramural teams. The first coaches were Denny Hosey and Billy Bowser, followed by Bill Miles, Mr. Hamilton, and finally in 1985 by Steve Arslanian. While the rivalry between Bowie and Kettering was intense, the teams were also very close geographically, and several youth wrestlers from Bowie and/or Kettering competed for either Kettering or Bowie at various times. Among them Stanley Proctor, the Young's, and Todd Beckerman. With decreasing support, the Bowie beltway team folded in 1985 with its members either joining Kettering or moving down to the junior league ranks.
In 1988, Kettering B&G Club failed to advertise or promote youth wrestling during its fall sign-ups and participation dropped significantly. Since nearly half the beltway team was from Bowie, a Kettering team parent, Paul Beckerman, worked out an arrangement with the Bowie Boys and Girls Club to pay CAWL beltway dues if the team would re-locate to Bowie. Accepting the offer, the team formally became Bowie's beltway team practicing at Bowie High School with Bruce Gabrielson serving as head coach. The post season older wrestlers who had been working out at Largo HS also moved practices to Bowie HS during those years. Because of insurance reasons, 1988 was also the first year the off-season SMWC program officially became a sanctioned club on its own.
The name SMWC actually came from an "almost" separate spring freestyle club. In the spring of 1985, Bruce had established SMWC, an off-season freestyle team mostly for older wrestlers at Calvert High School in Prince Frederick. The team drew youth wrestlers from Kettering and Bowie as well as high school wrestlers from PG and Calvert County. However, Calvert County Parks & Rec. at the time didn't want to support off-season youth wrestling, so the club only practiced there one year. At that point the off-season freestyle club moved to Bowie HS so practices could continue year around with Bruce's coaching. The club had also started to draw in out of state wrestlers to practice by then as well, including those from Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania on a weekly basis. Some wrestlers traveled long distances to practice and wrestle with the club.
In the spring of 1989, SMWC established its Hall-of-Fame to recognize the many Kettering B&G Club, Bowie B&G Club, or off-season SMWC wrestlers over the years that had supported the club's rise to dominance in the Mid-Atlantic region's wrestling world. Since the Kettering and Bowie youth league teams were so entwined, recognized wrestlers from both teams were inducted.
Also in 1989, the spring team won its first Junior (HS) Age Group Club Title at AAU Grand Nationals. Amaizingly, 5 of those pictured in the 1989 team below became NCAA Division I All-Americans with one becomming a NCAA National Champion.
1989 AAU Grand National Junior Age Group Club Champions
By 1990, the Bowie Beltway team had become the dominate force in area youth league wrestling. However, after community complaints that the Bowie beltway team was being dominated by too many non-Bowie wrestlers, the club moved back to Largo HS and resurrected the old Kettering Boys and Girls Club Team initially. However, since Kettering B&G Club still wouldn't promote wrestling the beltway team only used the Kettering name its first season then changed to the SMWC All-Stars in 1991. The All-Stars captured the CAWL title that year. It's interesting to note that on the championship 1991 team there were 9 eventual HS State Champions and 3 HS state runner ups. There was also 2 eveintual NCAA All-Americans and one eventual NCAA Division I Champion. The off-season program also moved with the youth team back to Largo HS where it stayed until 1994 when both it and the beltway team moved to Riverdale HS.
During the next several years, the youth club restricted itself primarily to tournament competitions as it had become too dominate for beltway league or local youth team only competitions. Several club wrestlers were the top youth wrestlers in the state at that time, but many didn't want to burden themselves with league type events, and voted each year to not affiliate with any league activities. The club became a regional travelling team and won many major youth tournament team events during those years, including defeating the best beltway teams. The team also drew many other top youth wrestlers from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region to its practice room.
In 1995, the spring club team set the All-Time AAU Grand National club record winning a record 8 age groups.
Record Setting 1995 AAU Grand National Team
The off-season team stayed at Riverdale HS until 1996 when it moved to Bishop MacNamara HS, while the youth team moved to Southern Middle School in Anne Arrundel County. Head Coach at UYC was John Dodge. UYC finished 1st in the Arrundel County League that year, defeated Golden Ring at the GR Invitationa, but only a few of the team members competed in the MD/VA state championships. Although UYC was located at the very south end of Ann Arrundel County, and although most members lived within 15 miles of the practice school, it had the same problem as Bowie did, too many non-County kids couldn't break into the team's line-up.
Because of the problems with county wrestlers the team moved again the following year to Queen Anne School in Upper Marlboro near Riverdale HS. When the youth team moved to Queen Anne, Bruce moved to Assistant Coach, and Rick Jones became its new Head Coach replacing John Dodge. It was at that time that many members of the team again decided to compete in CAWL events with the team finishing in first place in the league.
1997 CAWL Champion Queen Anne Beltway Youth Team
In 1997 the off-season team moved from MacNamara to Douglass HS before it too moved to Gwynn Park in the spring of 1998, primarily at the urging of GP High School Coach Cortez Hayes. The beltway program also moved to its current location at Gwynn Park HS in the fall of 1998. In 2001 the club and Beltway team left Gwynn Park after unfounded complaints by the school's athletic director that the club left the wrestling room messy and was dissorderly in the school. Despite the last minute notice about the facility, the club was able to move back to Riverdale Baptist HS for one season while it explored other facilities that would suite its program.
In the spring of 2000, the SMWC All-Stars captured the CAWL Championships and the MD/VA Beltway State Championships.
The Bowie Southern Maryland youth league team was restarted again for a couple of years in the early 2000's by Billy Harless as an advanced spinoff of their SMJWL program. It was not affiliated in any way with SMWC and within a short time went back to the SMJWL program.
Also in the spring of 2000, SMWC's original Head Coach Bruce Gabrielson, retired from duties of Head Coach and his son, Jason became the SMWC's new Head Coach for the next year.
That summer, SMWC captured it's 27th & 28th AAU Grand National Team Titles by winning the Elite and Espoir age divisions. >
The following fall, Jason returned to finish his final year of competition at Millersville University and the club was left without a head coach. When Coach G refused to come back as head coach, the club's Executive Committee talked him into the position of Club President and had the club vote in a new constitution giving him the power to hire or find a new head coach. Unfortunately, no individuals came forward and he was forced to take on coaching responsibilities again for a few years.
The youth age SMWC All-Stars have been a continuing presence in league competitions throughout their history. During the winter seasons beginning in 2000, the SMWC All-Stars captured the CAWL league championships multiple times. They also were consistently in the top three teams with three MD/VA Beltway State Championships during the early 2000s. Thus the legacy and tradition continues.
In the fall of 2002, the club moved to Thomas Stone HS in Waldorf. This was the first time since its inception that SMWC was primarily located outside of PG County. However, to maintain the weakening interest in PG County wrestling, Coach G ran a much smaller SMWC program at Northwestern HS on the off-nights of the primary practices.
In the spring of 2004, SMWC elected Head Coach Derek McDermott, another long time member and successful competitor. Derek became SMWC's 3rd Head Coach. Derik coached the club through a season at Thomas Stone and then a second season when the club moved back to Bishop McNamara HS. The club was forced to move again when the wrestling team lost their room and the girls soccer team needed the small gym for practices.
Unfortunately, although 3-4 junior league youth folkstyle teams practiced in PG County during the winter seasons, virtually no PG County youth wrestlers moved up to the more advanced beltway league youth competitions or continued into the freestyle season. Additionally, high school wrestling programs in the county continued to decline with very few older wrestlers interested in practicing freestyle during the off-season. With smaller numbers, and with the availability of a no cost facility near Coach Gabrielson's home at the Northeast Community Center in Chesapeake Beach, the club moved practices to Calvert County in the spring of 2007. At that time both Bruce and his son Jason Gabrielson actively coached the team, plus former National Prep Champion Mike Kenally became the assistant coach.
SMWC practiced at the community center for a year until the local youth league bought a new mat and would not let SMWC practice off season on it. With no mat that next spring spring, SMWC moved again, holding practices at Huntingtown HS with Scott McAdoo, the assistant Huntingtown coach and SMWC wrestler as Bruce's assistent. This lasted until the fall of 2010 when the head HS coach refused to require those who practiced to get USA wrestling cards or sign injury waivers. With no insurance protection for SMWC coaches, the club moved back to Waldorf and merged with Rampage, the club established by SMWC wrestler's Jason Gabrielson and Jason Kiesling. Bruce and SMWC and Marine Corrps Hall of Fame member Jim Howard continued to help as the freestyle and Greco assistant coaches.
SMWC stayed in Waldorf for the following year and then moved to LaPlata. The club was called SMWC Team Rampage with primary coaches Jason Gabrielson and Jason Kiessling. SMWC Rampage won numerous league titles over the years. In the spring of 2014, SMWC moved back to Thomas Stone HS in Waldorf and changed their name back to just their original SMWC name once again.
A comprehensive list of SMWC HS Champions can be found at this link