The sellout crowd of 3,850 at Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake gave Jeremy Ferry a standing ovation. The senior from Centreville high school had just won his 126th-consecutive match to earn his third-straight AAA individual state wrestling championship. Ferry defeated Western Branch’s Sean Sanderlin 7-0 for the title, which caused the capacity crowd to get on its feet. It was the last match Ferry wrestled in an extraordinary high school career. It was also one of the last positive experiences that Ferry would have with the sport that he excelled at.
Capping his high school career with a third straight state title was only fitting for Ferry, as dominant a prep school grappler as the Northern Region has ever seen.
"That’s really nice to see. That’s something that he’ll remember for the rest of his life," former Centreville head wrestling coach Dan Foglio told the Centre View in March 1995.
Foglio himself still remembers the sight.
"I had been coaching for about 20 years, it was the only time in the state tournament that I saw the crowd give a standing ovation. That was quite moving to see that," he said.
Eleven years later, Ferry looks back fondly at his time as one of the premier wrestlers in the state. "I just loved the sport and took to it right away. It was my main goal to just excel in that," he said.
FERRY’S PARENTS started him wrestling when he was eight as a way of getting the aggression out of their son.
"My coach put me in the advanced group and it was a miserable experience," he said. "I think that I got beat 15-1 in my first match and I got pinned in 30 seconds in my second match," said Ferry.
But he kept with the sport and was soon seeing positive results. He eventually joined a youth traveling program for advanced wrestlers in the area. By the time he entered high school, Ferry was already a seasoned wrestler.
At 14, Ferry wrestled in the 103-pound weight class on varsity. He lost only three matches that year and took fourth place in the state tournament.
"I was very excited about my success," he said. "It was odd and shocking. At the time, I was still so young. I was wrestling guys that were juniors and seniors who had hair on their chest and I had no hair on my entire body."
During his sophomore year, Ferry jumped up to the 112-pound weight class and then to the 119-pound class. No matter what weight he wrestled at, Ferry continued to win. Leading up to the state tournament, he was unbeaten on the year.
"I took every match as serious as I could," said Ferry. "I felt like I was in such a groove at that time. I didn’t go into a match thinking that I would win. I just went out there to wrestle as hard as I could."
Ferry made it to the state championship match where he faced a wrestler with the nickname, "Mr. Excitement." The televised match featured announcers that dubbed the sophomore with braces, "Baby-Faced Ferry." His opponent was known for his speed and ability to take down anyone. Ferry beat him 16-1. The match was stopped halfway through the second period due to technical falls.
"Mr. Excitement wasn’t all that exciting anymore," said Ferry.
DURING HIS junior year, Ferry continued his unbeaten streak, dominating opponents through the district, region and state tournaments and finishing the year at 42-0. He won his second-consecutive state title by pinning Green Run’s Kyle Proffitt with one minute left in the match. Ferry told the Centre View in March 1994, "I thought it would be tougher. I wasn’t expecting a pin."
Things got easier for Ferry during his senior year, as opposing teams began to forfeit their matches with him, choosing to have their wrestlers change weight classes and giving Centreville the automatic six points.
"He got discouraged because I had to run practice for everybody and he was thinking, ‘Why am I doing this. I’m getting a forfeit’," said Foglio.
Ferry remembers being discouraged by teams forfeiting against him.
"That was really frustrating to me because I loved the sport and I was out there to wrestle.
It's like when you watch baseball and they walk the batter. It's not giving anybody a chance to improve themselves or just go out there to wrestle and have a good time."
Ferry again won all of his matches during his senior year and received the standing ovation as he walked off the mat in Chesapeake with his third-consecutive state title.
FERRY TOLD the Centre View in March 1995, "I’m proud of everything that I’ve accomplished and there’s still more to come." He received a scholarship to the University of North Carolina and began his college wrestling career under head coach Bill Lam. He redshirted his freshman year and when he began his second year, Ferry’s love for the sport began to diminish.
"Coach Foglio was the greatest positive motivator that I had," he said. "You developed a personal relationship with him. You knew that he cared about you, apart from coaches that just want to win."
On the other hand, Ferry’s new coach was the complete opposite.
"[Coach Lam] and I really didn’t get along. He was the most negative motivator that I ever met in my life," he said.
After a victory early in his second year, Ferry walked off the match only to be met by criticisms from Lam.
"He started yelling at me for things that I did wrong. It kind of turned me," said Ferry. "The fun of sport was starting to fade away."
During a winter morning before a weigh in, Ferry went out to get a drink. As he was walking back to his hotel room, he collapsed in the snow.
"I was out for a good while until paramedics shook me," he said. "That was kind of scary." The incident was a turning point in Ferry’s wrestling career. He sat down and made a list of the pros and cons of wrestling in college. After days and nights of contemplating, Ferry decided that the cons had won out. He brought his decision to coach Lam.
"I told him that I was going to have to leave the team," said Ferry. "I remember him saying, ‘Can you make weight tomorrow?’"
Now living in Florida and working out his aggression on the golf course, Ferry is glad to reminisce about his time wrestling in high school.
"There were times when you hated it and there were times when you loved it," he said. "It was something that felt so good to win as an individual and earn points as a team. You get both aspects from the sport – individuality and a team dynamic. It’s a pretty amazing sport."
Jeremy Ferry is 21 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.