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  Oct 7, 2000

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State cracks down on backyard wrestling

 GAMBER, Md. (AP) -- Not in this back yard.

 Some 20 amateur wrestlers who competed in backyard matches on Saturday nights received a body blow from state officials.

 The Maryland State Athletic Commission says such matches -- which are watched by 20 or so friends and fans -- constitute an unlicensed sports event.

 The commission has told Greg Skipper, 17, the co-founder of Ground Breaking Wrestling, that he and his associates risk up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine if they don't stop putting on the shows.

 Someone could get hurt, said Patrick Pannella, executive director of the commission.

 Skipper, who calls himself "Mr. Excellent" in the ring, questions the wisdom of the ruling.

 "We're not out driving around drinking, doing drugs or hanging out at the mall, for crying out loud," he said. "We're not a bunch of criminals."

 The 16-by-16 foot elevated ring has a foam-filled mat surrounded by three ropes attached to large turnbuckles anchored to 6-by-6 inch posts. To one side is a mat-level stage for the wrestlers and a sound booth. Chairs for spectators are set up in front of the mat.

 Dan McDevitt, co-owner of Bone Breakers Professional Wrestling Training Center in Arbutus, said he knows of at least 20 unsanctioned backyard-type federations statewide.

 One GBW member, Randy Brown, said he is a licensed professional wrestler and an emergency medical technician.

 "I can tell you the ring is safer, better padded, than any I've wrestled on," Brown said. "These guys have gone about doing everything in a safe way."

 Gary Davis, a spokesman for the World Wrestling Federation, said fans should not try at home what they see on TV.

 "It's extremely dangerous and irresponsible," he said. "And the WWF encourages parents to take control and educate young wrestlers not to attempt what they see professionals do live or on TV."