Ethan Birth sees his past and future all at once while walking the halls of Bel Air High, where his father, Scott, and his uncles, Chris and Matt, were former championship-level wrestlers in the early 1990s.
Chris and Scott were state champions, and Matt earned a Harford County title and a second place finish at regions, having returned for this his fourth year as an assistant to Bobcats’ coach Craig Reddish.
“It’s great to see my other uncle, Matt, coaching at Bel Air,” said Ethan, an 18-year-old senior 220-pounder on the Havre de Grace squad. “I think it’s really cool when I go to Bel Air and see my Dad and uncle Scott’s name on the wall of the gym.”
While Ethan and his 115-pound brother, Conner, a 16-year-old sophomore, compete for the Warriors, their 13-year-old sister, Madison, is perhaps the more accomplished junior-leaguer.
Madison has a 22-4 record this year as an eighth grade, 102-pound member of the Mavericks’ Wrestling Club, having won four state titles in Maryland girls’ folkstyle, two in Pennsylvania Greco-Roman, and one in Pennsylvania freestyle.
“Being the only girl wrestler in the family is cool, but wrestling against boys is tough because not everyone respects or likes you,” Madison said. “Not everyone has the courage to step onto the mat and to do what I’m doing. Regardless of my last name, whenever I step on the mat, I feel I’m fighting for respect.”
Chris’ sons, Jack, 15, and Max, 13, compete at 145 and 141 in Frederick County.
“We all share something, which is a common piece of our identity,” said Jack, a sophomore winner of 22 of his 31 matches at Walkersville High. “It gets really competitive sometimes, but there is always motivation to work to improve to get to the next level.”
None of this is lost on Patty Kallmyer, the mother and grandmother of all of the grappling Births.
“I cannot tell you how proud I am of my sons – both as young wrestlers and now as coaches and fathers of young wrestlers. My boys have afforded me such a phenomenal experience. And to think that while they are participating in a sport we all loved, they were also developing life skills. To see today the discipline, the mental fortitude, the ability to develop strategy, the endurance, and strong work ethic that each of them possess makes me very proud,” Kallmyer said.
“That’s not to mention the thrill of the sport – the excitement at every match, every tournament, every newspaper clipping – knowing nothing is guaranteed despite their level of skill or the physical condition. It is kind of life in a nutshell, and they could not be more prepared for it. I feel so fortunate to have my sons and grandchildren be part of this intensely fascinating sport.”
Kallmyer has a particular affinity for Madison, who will attend either Havre de Grace or John Carroll next year. Girls have clamored to the sport since the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association held its inaugural all-girls state wrestling tournament at Northeast High in February 2018.
“It’s fascinating to watch the emotional intelligence of Madison as a wrestler,” Kallmyer said. “Madison doesn’t realize it now, but she is helping to create a path to educational, social and financial mobility for girls. I can’t wait for her to realize what a trailblazer she is.”
The family legacy started in 1963, in Danville, Pa.
“It began when my Dad, Ed Birth, was in seventh grade,” Scott said. “That’s when he and his three brothers, Dwayne, Scott and Robert, began wrestling.”
It continued at Bel Air with his sons, Chris, 51, Scott, 48, and Matt, 45.
Chris won three county titles in four championship appearances, two regional crowns in three title bout births, and placed first and third at the Class 2A-1A states as a junior and Class 4A-3A states senior in 1989 and 1990.
“As a junior, I beat Hereford’s Rob Hough, 6-4, in the 130-pound state finals a week after losing to him, 4-1, in the regionals,” said Chris, whose overtime state semifinal loss relegated him to third place in 1990. “I had to beat three kids who were undefeated to reach the state finals against Hough during my junior year. Placing third as a senior was a heartbreaker, but I have no excuses.”
Next was Scott twice earning county titles and one each in regional and state titles, the latter as a senior in 1992 who went 24-0 with 16 pins.
Scott dominated his Class 4A-3A state championship victory, shedding 10 pounds and overwhelming previously unbeaten, 125-pound rival Craig Middledorf of Montgomery County’s Paint Branch High.
In addition to his 10-2 shellacking of Middledorf, Scott also defeated the previous season’s Class 2A-1A state champion, Jim Ervine, of Havre de Grace earlier that year.
“I’ve always been extremely proud of what my brothers accomplished and of being from a wrestling family. They were the wrestlers I looked up to growing up,” said Matt, who earned a county title and second place finish at regions before graduating from Bel Air in 1995.
“There was pressure to follow in their footsteps and I had a hard time dealing with that, but I don’t think my nieces and nephews feel the same pressure. My brothers have done a great job setting expectations and at the same time pushing their kids to work hard and to get better every day.”
Ethan and Conner (115) compete for Havre de Grace, where the former has a 14-11 record, and the latter, one of 20-8.
“I do feel a bit of pressure to perform and achieve the things my Dad and uncles have,” said Conner, a regional champion last season. “When I think about my part in my family’s legacy of wrestling, I use that pressure to constantly work to improve and to give my best in the sport.”
A former junior league wrestler, Ethan returned to the sport for his final year of high school.
“There are two things my Dad instilled in me,” Ethan said. “One is if I always give it my best, I can’t lose. The other is if you want something bad enough, you need to compete for it.”
Cousin Max agrees, but with a caveat.
“Family get-togethers are fun,” said Max, who is 19-2 as an eighth-grade, junior leaguer. “There’s a lot of wrestling talk and it’s fun to know we have this in our blood.”