It’s been almost five decades since Homer King of Salisbury first stepped on a wrestling mat. And after a lifetime of dedication to the sport and to others, he’s earned him one of the highest honors for a wrestler in Maryland.
King, known to just about everyone who meets him as Hoss, was inducted into the Maryland chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Annapolis on Sunday. Surrounded by more than 100 friends and family, King recounted starting wrestling as a freshman at Bel Air with no experience.
“I’d never tried it before,” he said. “By my senior year, I had a pretty good year, and was county champion.”
He wrestled for a year at Towson University, but left school to start work. Years passed, he started his own business in Delmarva Auto Glass, and didn’t come back to the sport until his son, Brian, then a student at Parkside, decided to give wrestling a try in the early 1990s.
In Brian’s sophomore year, he volunteered to help coach, and ended up helping the Parkside coaches. His impact on the Parkside wrestlers he helped coach has lasted a lifetime, as Dan Seman, a Computer Aided Design/Drafting Teacher at Parkside said.
“When I started wrestling at Parkside, Homer called me “Hoss”…come to find out he calls everyone ‘Hoss’,” Seman said. “But his positive attitude and great advice helped me become a better person not just a better wrestler. I will always remember that he had a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for every one of our team not just the “superstars”. His leadership made we want to come back every year.”
But King’s biggest impact was yet to come – the creation of the Delmarva Wrestling Club.
Stephen Decatur head coach Todd Martinek had met King years earlier as a wrestler at Salisbury State University. “When I wrestled for SSU, I had a broken mirror. My uncle Benny Bennington told me to stop by with my wrestling program from winning states. I went in and introduced myself. About two hours later and 50 wrestling stories, I left with a fixed mirror and no bill.”
In 2004, Martinek and Decatur’s head coach at the time Kevin Gilligan had a proposal for King – start an off-season team and coach it, and they’d help supply the wrestlers. “So when the national duals were at the Civic Center, we talked to him about how the best teams in the country were coming to Salisbury and we have great local wrestlers and we should have a team,” Martinek said.
King said he thought about all the talent the region had and agreed to coach. “We had state champ and placers at Stephen Decatur, and (state place winner and now professional boxer) Fernando Guerrero at Parkside and (two-time state champion) Stephen Whitelock at North Dorchester, and kids from Sussex Tech and Sussex Central, there’s some pretty good kids here. Let’s give it a shot.”
The team won the duals tournament at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center two years running and won a tournament in New Jersey.
That initial team left quite an impression on Maryland wrestling. “In ’04, Lester Andrews (of Mardela) was a freshman, Latra Collick (of Stephen Decatur) was a sophomore, and Nathan Bourne (also of Stephen Decatur) was a sophomore. It was great to see all these guys from these different teams come together to practice and get better.” Andrews went on to win states in Maryland twice, Collick became a two-time state place winner and four-time collegiate national championship qualifier, and Bourne was a two-time state finalist who also wrestled in college.
More than 40 state champion wrestlers from three states, and more than 100 state placers, have been members of his wrestling club since its inception in 2004. Dion Johnson, head coach at Mardela High School, said the chance to work in the off-season with older local wrestlers who’ve returned to coach makes an impact.
“Team Delmarva provides a means for wrestlers on the Eastern Shore to train throughout the year at a reasonable cost in a well maintained facility. Members get to be a part of a team that competes in nationally recognized tournaments and learns from nationally recognized clinicians. In addition, wrestlers get to build a positive rapport other wrestlers and coaches within the local wrestling community,” Johnson said.
Burt Cashman, head coach at Parkside, said the ability to work with other high-level wrestlers from the region makes a tremendous difference in training. “In many communities it’s hard to continue an off-season training program or club (after the season ends) in the local schools because of restrictions. This club allows kids a place where they can challenge themselves against wrestlers from other schools and even other states, which helps take them to another level.”
It’s been 20 years since his own son graduated from the wrestling mats. Why does King still stay involved? “After that initial group’s graduated, the next group of guys came in, and stay in, and then the next group comes in, and now I’ve got some of their kids,” King said. His own grandson is slated to start with the program’s youth team this year.
A desire to see the Eastern Shore become more competitive was never from his mind, also. “I felt the Eastern Shore was behind the other three regions (in Maryland) and we needed to have off-season practice to catch up,” King said. “Now, we’re behind only the West (region).”
King has previously been honored with the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Service to Wrestling Award.
Delmarva Wrestling Club started its high school pre-season practices this week, and will continue Mondays and Thursdays until mid-November from 6:30 pm-8:00 p.m. at the facility at 210 Kiley Drive in Salisbury. Youth wrestling Tuesday and Thursday will be starting in November. For more information, email Homer King at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 443-614-3466.