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Since entering the wrestling ranks as a freshman at Bishop McNamara High School, a member of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference in Forestville, Alfred Bannister III has been a beast.
Bannister, nicknamed “Baby J,” and the top-ranked wrestler in Maryland in the 138-pound weight class, capped off a perfect 68-0 junior season record by recently claiming his first-ever National Preps Championship crown with an 11-3 victory by decision over Blair Academy (N.J.) junior Walker Dempsey at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa..
After a prolific showing, the La Plata resident captured the Gerald Leeman Outstanding Wrestler Award for his efforts.
Last season at National Preps, Bannister fell, 1-0, to Blair Academy’s Todd Preston, in a triple overtime battle where the McNamara junior received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Bannister has a 205-7 career record and is three wins away from breaking his older brother Andrew’s school record. Andrew, who also went to McNamara, was a three-time Maryland Independent Schools state champion.
Alfred Bannister Jr., “Baby J’s father, is a 1984 McDonough High School graduate and a three-time SMAC champion on the mat. Bannister Jr. said that he is still at awe of what his son had accomplished this season.
“I’m extremely proud of ‘Baby J,’ he’s learned a lot and he started off good, and now he’s turning into a great wrestler,” Bannister Jr. said. “He’s a big match wrestler and is the ultimate machine with the total package; he’s just complete and all-around.”
According to Bannister Jr., a member of the media at National Preps yelled out that “Baby J” was Mr. Excitement because of his talents and abilities on the mat. The officials at the tournament then named him “Kid Dynamite.”
“He goes all out and gives it everything that he’s got,” Bannister Jr. said of his son, who is also called “Megatron” by his little brother Sirr. “He has an array of moves like the 360 and the super duck, and he really gets hyped and a lot of people that watch him wrestle can’t believe what they see, they love seeing him wrestle.”
The most impressive moment of Bannister III’s season, and probably his career, was when he claimed his first-ever Beast of the East Tournament championship with a first period pin in 1 minute 50 seconds over another Blair Academy product in Mason Manville.
“This season was just a dream come true; I told you coming into this season that I wanted to win everything,” Bannister said. “The plan just worked perfectly of having a perfect season, and winning the Beast of the East was shocking because many people didn’t think that I would win. What separates me is that I focus on what I’ve done and how I got here, I don’t worry about what my opponent has done.”
“Baby J” had 47 pins in his 68 winning bouts this season and is 17 wins away from breaking DeMatha’s Michael Rowe all-time state record for the most career wins.
“It was about 1,000 to 1,500 people at Beast of the East, and I remember that ‘Baby J’ just cried after the finals,” Bannister Jr. added.
Christine Bannister, Bannister III’s mother, simply mentioned two words that summed up a special season.
“Phenomenal and amazing,” she said, “but I expected ‘Baby J’ to win; I know what his potential is. His brother Andrew is always in his corner. At the Beast of the East, he was nervous and very worked up, but when he won, he was really emotional because he really prepared and trained hard for that tournament.”
A lot of Bannister III’s success is due in part to a rigorous training regime. He is trained by Wade Hughes, a former wrestling standout for George Washington University in the 1980s and the all-time winningest wrestler in NCAA history with 182 wins. McNamara head coach Paul Wicks has had a big part in pushing him, along with his dad and his older brother.
“Baby J” is also trained by the Rampage Wrestling program in Southern Maryland that is coached by 1997 Northern High School graduate and three-time Class 4A-3A state champion Jason Gabrielson and 2002 McDonough graduate Jason Kiessling, who won a state championship as a senior.
“When it comes to practice, he doesn’t practice as hard, but he listens to what his coaches are telling him,” Bannister Jr. said. “He does train hard, and when it is time for the match, he turns it on.”
Along with being a state champion and the WCAC champion this winter, Bannister III was the Bob Rowe Classic champion in Salisbury, the War on the Shore tournament champion, St. Albans (D.C.) tournament champion, Keaser Classic champion, Ray Oliver Invitational champion and the Battle of the Base champion.
Bannister III will now prepare for the Junior Nationals in Virginia Beach, Va., on April 3 to 6, where he is looking to add more wins to his resume.
“My goal for next year is to be number one in the country,” said Bannister III, who also is a running back on the McNamara football team. “I’m focused on training like I’m in college. I have to be more focused.”