Amid the still-buzzing crowd, going wild over the evening’s previous championship match, the announcer at St. Albans School took the microphone, clicked it on and began speaking.
He was introducing the finalists for the 145-pound wrestling bout at the prestigious St. Albans Tournament in Washington, D.C.
“And from Georgetown Prep, a junior with a record of 36-4, a three-time Interstate Athletic Conference champion who placed fourth at National Preps last season and plays clarinet in his school’s jazz band, Michael Sprague,” he said.
Sprague — a smaller, if not unimposing figure — twisted his head and shot a quizzical look at his coach, Mike Kubik.
Sprague didn’t play the clarinet or any instruments, actually.
“Everyone has a joke prepared for if and when they reach the finals,” Kubik said with a laugh. “[Sprague’s] style is really weird. It’s like wrestling a ball of clay. We call him Miles Davis because he’s always improvising.”
True to form, Sprague molded himself into exactly what he needed to be during that final match and scored a 3-1 victory against Wyoming Seminary’s Jake Savoca. Sprague entered the championship telling himself he needed to score a takedown against Savoca — a wrestler from the famed Pennsylvania prep school. He did just that, and it ended up being the difference.
“I was excited to win a big tournament that I’ve gone to the past few years after losing by a point in the finals last year,” he said.
With a sterling record, humble demeanor and a haircut fit for a prep school student, Sprague has wrestled his way to a fourth-place ranking in the state and is hoping for more success in the year’s final two tournaments: the Maryland Independent State Tournament and National Preps.
Sprague, who also is an accomplished diver for the Hoyas, almost never had the opportunity to attend Georgetown Prep.
When Sprague was in second grade, his mother, Carol, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She beat the deadly disease and was seemingly healthy for roughly five years. Then, in December of Sprague’s eighth-grade year — he was 14 — Carol visited her doctor. The cancer was back. It was all over her body and little could be done. She died four months later.
One of Carol’s lasting wishes was for Michael to attend Georgetown Prep. Enter Rick Robinson, the school’s diving coach and psychologist of 29 years.
“Basically, she told me before she died that, ‘Could I see to it that Michael got to Prep and that I would take care of him?’” Robinson said. “I said, ‘I would.’”
Around the same time Sprague applied for admission to Prep, his father lost his job. Robinson knew the school had to support Sprague financially, so that he could support himself.
“I think losing your mom the way he did. ... It was so fast,” said Robinson, who met Sprague and his mom at a local pool when Sprague was 8. “I would go up to the hospital and look at him and you could see the sadness in his eyes. For him, being an eighth grader, you definitely worry about things like depression and the complicated grieving that comes with it. But I think I was able to help him with it, make it a little easier for him to talk about it.”
Sprague, who is quiet by nature and still wears braces that make him look younger than he actually is, said at the time of his mother’s death his new friends at Prep helped him through the sadness with laughter. So did wrestling and diving.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Sprague said of coping with such an unthinkable loss. “I think I’m doing pretty well. Just having great friends and always telling jokes, it really makes things enjoyable.”
Sprague began diving when he was 4 and wrestling when he was 7. He also plays rugby in the spring and used to play football and lacrosse and is a black belt in karate. On school nights, he splits his time between the two winter sports practices — diving right after school and wrestling later in the evening. Sprague won an Interstate Athletic Conference diving title last year and, alongside his girlfriend, serves as a diving instructor during the summer for kids ages 4-18 at their community pool.
“It’s something at Prep that hasn’t been done very often,” Robinson said of Sprague. “I don’t think there’s a faculty member at Prep that doesn’t know him and doesn’t believe he’s one of the nicest and most talented kids in the school.
“When he won the diving championship last year, especially, it was very emotional for his dad and for me. We felt like his mom must be down here looking at him. And she must be so happy to see him accomplishing everything she wanted for him.”