Damascus High School sophomore Mikey Macklin knew he was going to miss a day of school to travel to Massachusetts in preparation for celebrating Thanksgiving with his family.
He also knew his coach, John Furgeson, wouldn’t be happy.
“My coach was mad that I was leaving because my team was still having practice,” Macklin said.
So Macklin, with the help of his mom, coordinated with a local high school so that he could attend their wrestling practice and not miss a day of training.
It’s that type of dedication that has made Damascus a powerhouse when it comes to Montgomery County wrestling. And it’s a dedication that Furgeson again sees in the group he has returning for the 2012-13 campaign — one where the Swarmin’ Hornets will look to build on last season’s Montgomery County championship.
“We have some guys coming back and they’ve worked hard in the offseason,” Furgeson said. “We can’t be satisfied or live with what we did last year. We’ve got some holes to fill and we lost some big seniors.”
Macklin figures to be one of many key components of this year’s squad that must continue to improve if Damascus hopes to achieve even bigger things than it did last season.
The offseason wrestling regiment has become more of a requirement than an option as the sport continues to evolve and Damascus’ group is among the many that participate in year-round tournaments and camps. Furgeson’s club also continues to be aided by the intramural and Beltway League feeder programs that have bolstered recent success.
“It’s unique in the fact that we get the kids we’re trying to build up from when they’re born,” Furgeson said. “It’s crazy. We get those Beltway teams and it kind of reminds you of stuff out in the Midwest where you grow up in a town and play football and wrestle. That’s what we do.”
Certainly, there’s no shortage of football players on Damascus’ roster, including Caleb Baisden and George Vinson. Admittedly, members of the football team are upset with having their perfect season end at the hands of Urbana in the opening round of the playoffs. But Baisden said that simply motivates him more for the wrestling season.
“The way it ended left a bad taste in some of our mouths,” said Baisden, a senior. “Hopefully [the loss] will make us pretty nasty coming into this year.”
The lightweights once again should be strong for Damascus, but a balanced lineup is expected under Furgeson, whose grapplers managed only 14 team points in the 3A/4A state tournament after a very successful dual meet season.
“Our goal is try to compete at the state level,” Furgeson said. “I felt like we topped out at the counties and didn’t do as well as we hoped in the next two rounds. This year, we’re hoping the seniors provide the leadership that we need.”
A highlight of Damascus’ schedule will be its annual holiday tournament, which Furgeson continues to mold into a marquee event. It’s all part of continuing the aura that comes along with having three state championships and two runner-up finishes in school history.
“I think that’s what’s fun about being at Damascus,” Furgeson said. “We strive for excellence but we know that we’re going to get everybody’s best. We can’t sleep on anybody because we have that bull’s eye on our backs.”
Two teams from Pennsylvania, one from Virginia and a handful of Maryland schools, including Thomas S. Wootton, are scheduled to compete in the tournament, which attracts alumni as well as current students. Part of what drives the current group of wrestlers — which also includes Johnnie Fischer, Owen Brooks and Cory Obendorfer — is the willingness of grapplers past to return to the school and lend their support.
“Really great wrestlers, almost legends, come back every year,” Baisden said. “In a way, it kind of makes you want to win when those guys come back and you see them in the stands and they’re rooting for you. They’ve invested so much in the program that you feel like it’s now your turn to be great.”