MOONEYHAM COLUMN: Wrestling school student suffers fatal injury

Quentin Washington was a student at Gillberg's Pro Wrestling Academy in Severn, Md.

Professional wrestling has sometimes been likened to a dance. It’s an art form, albeit a physically challenging one, in which stories can be told in an athletic and entertaining fashion.

It can be a choreographed ballet that combines style and grace with power and strength.

In extreme cases, though, it can prove deadly.

Quentin Latrell Washington, a 25-year-old aspiring wrestler, recently lost his life after suffering a fatal injury during training at a Maryland-based pro wrestling facility.

Washington, who died on Jan. 20 at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, one day after suffering the injury, was a new trainee at Gillberg’s Pro Wrestling Academy.

Police say there is no indication of foul play or suspicious circumstances surrounding his death. Authorities say Washington, a Georgetown, S.C., native who resided in District Heights, Md., was practicing wrestling maneuvers when he fell and hit his head.

“The commission extends its deepest condolences to the family of this wrestler,” said Patrick Pannella, executive director of the Maryland State Athletic Commission. “We are deeply saddened by this loss.”

The school is owned and operated by veteran wrestler Duane Gill, best known for his stint in WWE during the late ‘90s as “Gillberg,” a parody of then-rival promotion WCW’s top star, Bill Goldberg.

According to the wrestling school’s Facebook page, it trains aspiring professional wrestlers, referees, managers and others wanting to break into the business. The academy, which opened in July 2010, is described as a “state-of-the-art facility with full locker rooms, two wrestling rings and top-notch trainers.”

“I’m old school,” Gill, 52, told the WWE website in 2010. “I don’t like to get (my students) out in front of a big crowd until I really feel they are ready. You have to pay your dues with me.”

Adrian Lewis, who wrestles locally as Tank Lewis, trained briefly at the Severn, Md., facility last year.

Lewis, 35, who has trained at a number of wrestling schools during his 16-year career, says he left after only a few sessions.

“It was just different than I expected,” said Lewis, who said he observed little hands-on training while at the facility.

Lewis said that most of the training was conducted by two assistants who worked for Gillberg.

Another trainee said it was only Washington’s second day at the school, but added that he thought he had some experience as a worker.

Washington, whose alter ego was “LaTrell Smooth,” described himself on his Twitter page as “an independent wrestler on the rise in Maryland.”

Washington reportedly was taking a routine back bump when he struck his head.

“It’s very unusual to suffer that kind of injury from a basic back bump,” said Lewis.

But accidents happen, he added, and wrestlers put their bodies through serious injury every time they work.

“Even training can be dangerous. There are a lot of workers out there who claim to have previous experience just to get in. But you need to prove that you’re a worker before you take that first bump. If you don’t know exactly what you’re doing and you’ve just been watching people do it, you can really hurt yourself,” said Lewis.

“I don’t think anyone should be taking bumps on their second day. Maybe a couple of weeks in ... then you can take that first big bump. And there always needs to be supervision. You can get hurt otherwise.”

Lewis says he trained for more than nine months before he had his first match.

“It’s a dangerous sport, and you have to know what you’re doing. Thank the Lord I’ve never been (seriously) hurt.”

Gillberg’s Academy is just one of hundreds of wrestling schools throughout the country that serve as training grounds for athletes who hope to become pros at the next level.

James Island native Pete Kaasa, who wrestles locally as Pete Kaasanova, spent six months training last year at the Atlanta-based WWA4 promotion. He said training, for the most part, was supervised.

“We did light bumps (falls) ourselves the first few days of training. We ran the ropes and took some basic bumps ... but no back body drops or anything crazy like that. Mr. Hughes (former pro wrestler Curtis “Big Cat” Hughes) let us do basic stuff like back bumps, and told us to act like somebody was pulling a rug from under us. But we didn’t do anything crazy the first week or so.”

Kaasa, an aerial artist who has drawn strong reviews during his rookie year in the business, said no one was excluded from drills, including the more experienced workers. And all students were required to sign waivers stating that the school assumed no responsibility for injuries suffered during training.

Kaasa, though, said he didn’t witness any serious injuries during his time at the camp. The worst, he said, was a busted kneecap.

-- Chris Jericho appears to be the favorite to win tonight’s Royal Rumble in St. Louis, although this particular event has a reputation for swerves and surprises. Randy Orton, who claims St. Louis as his hometown, also is expected to make a strong showing.

It was a mere 20 years ago that Ric Flair won the event in what many consider to be the greatest Rumble ever. The 1992 Rumble also was the first and only time the company’s world title was on the line.

-- Old School Championship Wrestling is opening its 2012 schedule with a big show Feb. 26 at the Hanahan Rec Center.

Former ECW, TNA and WWE star Al Snow will meet John Skyler in one of the featured bouts on the show. An inaugural OSCW ladies’ title match will pit former WWE hardcore champ Bobcat against Pandora.

-- PWX (Premier Wrestling Experience) will present its Die Hard show Feb. 11 at the Solomon Blatt Education Center, 1300 Wheat St., on the campus of the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

Ultra J champion Caleb Konley will defend his title against Ring of Honor star “Die Hard” Eddie Edwards. Also on the bill: PWX champion Rhett Titus, Corey Havoc and Joey Janella vs. Ernie Osiris and The Great Outdoors Men (Jake Manning and Grizzly Redwood); “Mr. Elite” Drew Meyers vs. Adam Page; Caprice Coleman and Cedric Alexander vs. Corey Hollis and Mike Posey; Johnny Dangerous vs. Drew Haskins; Zane Riley vs. Blain Rage; plus more.

General admission is $10; ringside $15.

Tickets are on sale at http://www.highspots.com/. For more information, visit http://www.pwxperience.com/.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517, follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook.