Over 30 years ago, the O’Connell wrestling mat had a ragtag pair of grapplers, trying to make a name for themselves. All these years later, the same faces are still affiliated with the Knights program, just in largely different capacities.
Dick Martin, the retiring O’Connell principal after 44 years in Catholic education, had an 11-year stint as wrestling coach when he watched Bill Carpenter and Bob Kurtzke hit the mats.
All these years later, Carpenter is now the longtime head coach, while Bob Kurtzke, now a neurologist in Reston just watched his eldest son, Eric Kurtzke recently finalize a standout four-year wrestling career.
Eric Kurtzke followed Carpenter’s sons, Reed and Jeremy Carpenter, both of whom were O’Connell wrestling stars. Reed, now a 25-year-old high school coach, holds the Virginia state record for career victories, recording a gaudy 210-17 record with 122 pins. Though Eric Kurtzke fell short of Reed Carpenter’s high school record, he did accomplish an O’Connell rarity — winning the state tournament for four consecutive years.
“It was a big honor because not a lot of people have done that from O’Connell or any other school really,” Eric Kurtzke said.
Starting at 112 pounds before moving up to the 125-pound class as a sophomore and eventually 140 pounds as a junior and senior, Eric Kurtzke displayed a quiet determination few have achieved over the past 30 years in O’Connell singlets.
“His wrestling coach (Bill Carpenter) probably said it best,” Bob Kurtzke said. “He said, ‘Eric doesn’t say a lot with his words. He just gets the job done.’”
The recent O’Connell graduate struggled — by his own accords — both as a junior and senior because of wear-and-tear injuries. During his junior season at a tri-meet at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes, Eric Kurtzke was dueling with an opponent from rival Paul VI. Even though he doesn’t remember exactly how or when it happened, the nimble Knight banged his shoulder on his opponent’s knee.
“It was a freak accident,” Eric Kurtzke said. “I tore my labrum and damaged the nerve so I couldn’t move my arm. It got better and it wasn’t a major tear. I got back into wrestling season before it was done.”
He won the state tournament, but had to medically default for the national prep tournament. He then continued into lacrosse season despite the nagging pain.
“He didn’t complain about the shoulder injury,” Bob Kurtzke said. “He wasn’t himself, but he never made excuses. He did what he could do.”
During his senior season, Eric Kurtzke again hurt himself, but played through the pain. He finished second in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships for the second year in a row, losing 15-0 in technical fall to Dematha’s Matt Dugan. Eric Kurtzke rebounded with his fourth consecutive state championship, before finishing seventh at the national prep tournament.
The knee, which was full of fluid after a season of grinding holds, prevented him from playing lacrosse as a senior. The O’Connell grad, in an interview over the phone on Monday evening, admitted that he “couldn’t really run.”
“He’s quiet,” Bob Kurtzke said. “He doesn’t talk much either about his accomplishments or what he’s going to do. Generally speaking, if he says he’s going to do something or there’s something in front of him, he just does it.”
<b>THE O’CONNELL</b> male student-athlete award winner will attend the University of Notre Dame, much like his father, where he hopes to play club lacrosse.
“It seems like it’s a coincidence,” Eric Kurtzke said of following his father. “That’s where I wanted to go in the first place. I’ve been there before and like the campus and atmosphere.”
Regarding graduation, where his dad participated as an alumnus, the eldest of four was contrite.
“I’m glad to be going on and sad to leave the high school friends behind,” Eric Kurtzke said. “I felt good about it so it was a good day.”
But at O’Connell, and especially in the wrestling program, the Kurtzke family were happy to have some recognizable faces.
“It’s a nice community, and there’s a lot of continuity,” Bob Kurtzke said. “People were important to me as a kid are still [at O’Connell]. Dick Martin would tease me, saying that ‘Eric is a better wrestler than you were.’ There’s no argument there.”