Happy birthday, ‘Baby J’
La Plata resident wins second-straight gold medal at Junior Olympics, leads team to runner-up finish
Alfred Bannister III of La Plata already has had a galore of accomplishments that fills up his wrestling resume.
After a dominating sophomore season on the mat at Bishop McNamara High School in Prince George’s County, a member of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, Bannister, also referred to as “Baby J,” had to leave room for another accolade.
For the second-straight season at the AAU Junior Olympics, Bannister recently claimed the gold medal at 145 pounds in Houston, representing Potomac Valley from Maryland.
Potomac Valley finished runner-up at the annual event for the second-straight time, falling by one point to gold medalist Team Minnesota.
What made the win even more special for Bannister was that the top finish came on Aug. 3, which was his birthday.
“It was real exciting to win on my birthday and I was really confident this year that I could win gold again and I was able to accomplish that,” Bannister said. “The experience was fun, I got to see different wrestlers around the country and different styles. Wrestling versus top-notch competition lets me know where I stand nationally.”
Bannister’s father, Alfred Jr., a 1984 McDonough High School graduate and a three-time SMAC champion on the mat, said that his son is very modest and laid-back away from the mat but is just a bull in the ring.
“It’s just unheard of the stuff that ‘Baby J’ has done already in the state and nationally,” Alfred Jr. said. “To win at the Junior Olympics is a great accomplishment and he didn’t even want us to come up there, he told me that, ‘I got it’ and I was like, ‘OK’. I’m glad he brought the gold medal home. He’s stepped it up another notch.”
Bannister’s mother, Christine, added, “I was pretty confident that he was going to win at juniors. ... It’s exhilarating and it’s amazing what he does on the mat. It’s a lot easier watching him now because he’s so confident.”
Winning gold at the national level was the icing on the cake for Bannister, who has turned his thoughts to McNamara’s football season where he is a running back on the varsity squad.
“I’m just concentrating on football. During football season, I don’t do any training for wrestling because I want clear my mind and get ready for the winter when it comes,” Bannister said.
Last winter, Bannister had a storied sophomore season on the mat, collecting 80 wins with two losses while claiming his second-straight Maryland state title and being undefeated in the state.
In early April, he won sophomore nationals in Virginia Beach, Va.
Both of his losses came at the hands of fifth-ranked Todd Preston, a graduate of Blair Academy in New Jersey, at the National Preps and Beast of the East tournaments.
At National Preps, Bannister fell in a hard-fought battle with Preston in triple overtime and received a standing ovation from the crowd. At Beast of the East, the rising McNamara junior came up short in a 1-0 outcome.
“He had a lot of fans rooting for him to win, he gave it all he had,” Christine Bannister said. “He really wanted to win and had a few chances to win that match.”
Bannister has won 137 matches in his career thus far and is on pace to surpass his older brother, Andrew’s mark of 200-plus career wins. Andrew was a three-time state champion and graduated from McNamara in 2009.
“You would never know that ‘Baby J’ wrestles and has accomplished this much because he doesn’t say anything about it. But when that whistle blows, you better be ready,” Alfred Jr. said. “He reminds a lot of Mike Tyson in his younger days; he’s just so powerful and is hard to stop.”
The older Bannister mentioned that he not only has good technique, but is phenomenal on his feet.
“I told him that you can’t stop and sit back and wait because there are a lot of people who are out to stop you and looking at videos to stop you,” Alfred Jr. said. “So he has to be up to the challenge. ‘Baby J’ is just fine; if he continues to give 110 percent, that’s all that matters.”
Bannister, who benches 285 pounds and squats 500, wants to continue his success in the years to come
“I want to go undefeated next year, just get better at my craft,” he said.