The socks rested on top of Steven Schmitz’s dresser so that he wouldn’t forget to look at them every day.
When Schmitz woke up for a run at 5 a.m. before school, he would toss on some sweats and look at the socks.
When he got ready for bed at night, before drifting off to sleep, he would look at the socks.
They’ve been worn four times, they’ve never been washed and they’re starting to become a bit magical.
The story goes like this. In 2010 at South Carroll High School, heavyweight wrestler Sam Wright was preparing for the biggest match of his life — the state championship bout. On the way to the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House, however, he noticed that he wasn’t wearing any socks.
“How he realized that on the way to the tournament when he already had shoes on,” South Carroll coach Bryan Hamper said with a laugh, “I’ll never know.”
So the father of another South Carroll wrestler, Chris Wampler, scrounged up some socks for Wright to wear. Wright wore them and won the state title.
Instead of returning the socks, and instead of washing them, Wright handed the socks to Chris Wampler at the wrestling banquet and told him he could only wear them once: next season when he competed in the state finals.
Wampler reached the state finals, alright. Won. And didn’t wash the socks. He passed them down to Willie Reiter, who set the socks on his dresser, wore them the day of the state finals and beat his opponent.
Which brings us to Schmitz, who received the socks from Reiter at last season’s banquet and, like the three wrestlers before him, wore the socks on the day of his state championship match against Wicomico’s Alex Pullen.
“Willie gave them to me and told me to keep them on my dresser, to keep them somewhere special and look at them every day,” Schmitz said. “It helped me remember what my goals were and how I was going to change the day to accomplish them. I felt like it made me work that much harder.”
Schmitz, a senior, beat Pullen, 3-1, to win the 182-pound 2A/1A state title and complete a perfect season in every sense of the word. He finished 43-0, he didn’t surrender a takedown all year and he improved the socks’ record to 4-0.
“When I was in the practice room, I never thought about going undefeated or that, ‘I have to win,’” said Schmitz, the Gazette’s Wrestler of the Year. “But when I was with my friends or trying to sleep, that’s when it hit me. There were a lot of sleepless nights where I was constantly thinking about it.”
Unlike many wrestlers, Schmitz didn’t mince words when describing the pressure that he felt build throughout the year while his record remained unblemished. And unlike many wrestlers, Schmitz had plenty of other things to divert his attention as well.
He’s the president of his senior class, plays percussion in band, plays piano in jazz band, plays football and lacrosse and carries a weighted GPA of above 4.0. He doesn’t yet know where he’s going to college, but knows he wants to continue to wrestle and play music wherever it might be. He’s already been accepted to seven schools.
“Steven’s the picture-perfect student athlete,” Hamper said. “He’s the first one in the practice room every day and he’s the last to leave. He saw from an early age what type of off-the-mat work ethic was necessary to be a state champion and he decided as a freshman that that’s where he wanted to be.”
Hamper said it was easy to motivate Schmitz to achieve his 2013 goals because the imposing wrestler finished second in the region and state in 2012. He had plenty for which to strive. This time around, Schmitz left no doubt. Even if he was running low on energy.
“I tried not to think of it the night before,” said Schmitz, who estimated he spends 30 hours a week wrestling. “I know it sounds weird. It’s tough to do. You’re always thinking that this next day was the biggest night of my life. But that was tough, especially because there was a party going on in the hotel room next door. It was rough. Not something I needed that day.”
Still, Schmitz managed to rest well enough to put himself in position for the win. While most wrestlers warm up in the loading dock tunnel, Schmitz separated himself from the crowd as best he could, climbing to an empty, dark section of Cole to focus and prepare.
“As long as I got out of the way and sat by myself, I knew it would be OK,” he said. “Instead of bumping into a ton of kids I felt like everything just had to go right that day so I went up there.”
It worked. Along with the socks, of course. Though Schmitz said he’s still not sure who he’ll give them to at this year’s banquet.
“It seems like a little silly tradition, but these kids take it very seriously,” Hamper said. “Over the last six years, we’ve had seven state champions. It’s like the next in line type of thing and the socks are a way of showing that we believe in you. Whether or not that does anything mentally to the kids, I’m not sure. But I’d like to think it does.”