Before Jimmy Sheptock’s emergence as the top-ranked 184-pound wrestler in the nation, the Terrapins wrestling senior had to work his way through the ranks.
During the tail end of the Terps’ 2009-10 campaign, the then-freshman wasn’t even in the lineup. He was serving a redshirt season and was relegated to watching matches from the stands, where he couldn’t help but notice a peculiar man wielding a trumpet and hollering nearby in the stands.
“We were like, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’” said Sheptock, whose Terps beat N.C. State and American this weekend. “We didn’t know who he was cheering for.”
The man in the crowd, Robin Ficker, has since traded in the trumpet, opting for an assortment of Terps flags and a series of comical catchphrases he shouts in Comcast Pavilion with his booming voice. He has become a mainstay at Terps’ home matches, and often travels to cheer on the team on the road.
“No matter what, we can always count on one, at least one, big loud voice in the stands,” coach Kerry McCoy said. “He comes by practice a couple times a week. He’ll come in, yell at the guys, [say] ‘Hey, work hard!’ He’s a part of the whole Maryland wrestling family.”
Before the Terps challenged N.C. State on Saturday, Ficker — a 70-year-old attorney — sat in the bottom row of the bleachers with a smile spread across his face. His choice of style complemented his boisterous personality.
Clad in a neon green shirt that read “Be a Terp All-American,” matching neon green floral shorts and jet black combat boots, Ficker rose from his seat and aggressively waved his Terps flag in the face of several members of the Wolfpack, shamelessly interrupting their warm-ups.
The combat boots aren’t just for show. When a Terp comes close to capturing a fall, Ficker jumps up and down, his boots creating a thunderous echo throughout the building.
“It tends to shake the floor,” Ficker said. “I had a couple of refs tell me I couldn’t jump because it was affecting the match. It was shaking the mat.”
He also has a chant for pinning situations.
“One two, buckle my shoe. Three, four close the door. Five, six, pick him quick. Seven, eight you’re wrestling great. Nine, ten, ref say when!”
Before Ficker began spending his free time cheering on the Terps, he was a renowned heckler at professional basketball games. Then-Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley flew him to the 1993 NBA Finals with the intention of bothering the Chicago Bulls’ legendary forward Michael Jordan. He sat right behind the Bulls’ bench.
“At the time, Michael Jordan’s gambling was an issue,” Ficker said. “And so, I brought a number of hundred dollar bills and some oversized playing cards, and some dice. It was during the NBA Finals, and we had a card game going. I’d hand out the cards and say ‘Mike, how much you want to bet?’”
Once Ficker learned center Alonzo Mourning had arachnophobia he began taunting Mourning from behind the bench with a fake spider on a long pole.
Yet Ficker reverts to a calm, professional demeanor when speaking colloquially.
His business card reads “Robin Ficker, Law Offices.” The Washington-based attorney specializes in serious traffic and criminal offenses — hardly the expected trade for a man who frequently tormented professional basketball players.
Ficker’s presence has not been lost on opposing teams. Opposing coaches have challenged him to wrestle a few times, he said.
“Which is fine with me,” Ficker said. “I was king of the pits in hand-to-hand combat at the U.S. Military Academy.”
During Sheptock’s match against American’s Jason Grimes on Sunday night, Ficker sat in the front row of the bleachers in his usual spot. As Sheptock muscled his way to a 12-2 major decision, Ficker recruited several children from the bleachers to join him in cheering.
Ficker and the kids engaged in a back-and-forth shouting session. After Ficker hollered “Headlock Sheptock,” he pointed to the group of children, who murmured their best impression of the former heckler.
“The thing is I’ve never really hit a headlock my whole life,” Sheptock said with a smile. “At least it rhymes, you know?”
Ficker may be a 70-year-old attorney who rises early and puts on a suit and tie every day, but he is also a profoundly competitive man who isn’t afraid to raise his voice in support of the Terps.
“I’m constantly trying to promote Maryland wrestlers,” Ficker said. “When they’re not out on the mat. After all, you’re out there alone. You need some support.”