The wrestling team at Los Angeles Dorsey can trace its roots to a grass field behind the school.
That's where Demetre Hunter, Dajhar Johnson and others would get together after school to wrestle one another in unofficial "strongest kid in school" competitions.
Slowly, after a few months, the competitions began to resemble wrestling.
Oscar Gilliam, a teacher at the school and a former high school wrestler, took note. He approached the students and suggested they start a real team -- a novel concept considering that no inner-city school had fielded a wrestling program since L.A. Fremont's team folded in 1992.
But the kids were game and this year Dorsey has taken to the mats for the first time since the 1970s. Bell and Los Angeles University are the only other City Section schools outside the San Fernando Valley with wrestling programs.
"We had to pull a lot of teeth to get this going," Gilliam said. "But to get wrestling into this area is a big deal. We have a lot of tough kids from tough neighborhoods and that's what you need in this sport. We're hoping some other area schools will follow along and start programs too."
Dorsey has wrestled in novice, junior varsity and varsity tournaments this season with varying degrees of success. Mostly, the Dons take their lumps, but the victories come in other forms.
For wrestlers such as Christopher Martin, Byron Turnase and Rashaad McCoy, making it to the second period of their matches Thursday against University before getting pinned was a success.
For Hunter, it was the ability to smile after scoring a takedown before getting pinned in the first period by his University opponent.
"This is the perfect sport for me," Hunter said. "I'm getting into shape and I get to be physical. I love to be physical."
For Gilliam, the greatest victory came Jan. 21, the day after Dorsey lost, 84-0, to City Section title favorite Bell. That is the largest margin of victory possible in a dual meet, meaning everyone either was pinned or the match was forfeited.
The next day, Gilliam approached the practice room with trepidation, but was pleasantly surprised when he opened the door and saw 15 smiling faces.
"They all came back," Gilliam said. "That really meant something."
The team exuded the same enthusiasm after a 72-0 loss to University on Thursday. Because of injuries, Dorsey had enough wrestlers to fill only seven of the 14 weight classes and all seven were pinned, but each scored points with takedowns, reversals or escapes before losing.
"It can be very frustrating," Martin said. "You get dry in the mouth and you try to swallow some saliva, but you don't have any to swallow. It's very draining, very tiring, but I'm going to keep coming back. I'm hungry for a win. I know I can get one. We just have to keep working harder."
Christopher Toussaint, a sophomore who wrestled in a junior varsity match against University and won, says there is only one way for the team to get better.
"Practice, practice, practice," he said. "We fool around a lot and we need to practice and that's all we need to do, stop fooling around. We could be good."
University Coach Ernest Ciaccio applauded Dorsey's effort to build a program and encouraged the Dons to persevere through the difficult times.
"In this sport, you're going to take your lumps," he said. "You may do it when you're 5 years old when you start, or 7 or 10 or in high school. There's no way around it. Nobody comes into this sport and starts winning right away. But at some point you turn a corner and then there is no stopping you."
Dorsey works out in a tiny makeshift practice room with a support post serving as an obstacle and wall indentations from wrestlers crashing into them. The mat was donated by Canoga Park High, but it doesn't fit in the room, so they had to cut it into pieces to make it fit.
They have no regulation mat and, therefore, they don't have any home matches.
"It's not perfect, but it's better than the field," Hunter said. "Yeah, this is tough, but going to Dorsey is tough. Life is tough."
Gilliam hopes his wrestlers can take something from the sport even if they never win a match. He wrestled in high school, gave it up to play football in college, but said wrestling left an impression on him that he'll never forget.
"It's something that was a part of me and it never left," he said. "It's really more about character development. You learn a lot in wrestling that you can use in life. Life is all about adversity and changes. Wrestling models that very well."
Martin, a lanky 125-pounder known more for his book smarts than athletic ability, wanted to try wrestling because the pro wrestling on television always appealed to him. He soon found out that there was a big difference between the WWE and high school wrestling, but stuck with it because he figured that he could learn from the sport.
"There's no kicking people in this, no jumping off the top rope," he said. "But I think I'm getting a lot out of it. It's shown me that hard work and determination will help and that no matter how arduous something is, you can persevere."