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InterMat Reads: Pathfinder

There's an assumption that wrestling has always been as we know it today. Wrestlers have always worn singlets, wrestled on foam mats, and been a diverse group of men and women of various skin colors.

One only need to look at old-school high school and college wrestling photos to realize there was once a time when none of the above statements were true. For instance, it's only been in the past 50-60 years that people of color started participating in the oldest and greatest sport in numbers.

A new book -- "Pathfinder: The Journey of the African-American Wrestler" by Kevin Emily -- seeks to make today's athletes and fans of all colors appreciate the accomplishments and achievements of a number of African-American wrestlers and coaches who opened doors for subsequent generations of athletes.

Kevin Emily (right) with Simon Roberts

Meet Kevin Emily

Although born in South Carolina, Kevin Emily grew up in one of the hottest of the nation's amateur wrestling hotbeds, Waterloo, Iowa ... hometown of the one and only Dan Gable, and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum. Emily wrestled in Waterloo, then at University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, before launching his own teaching and coaching career.

In fourteen years of coaching in Iowa, Tennessee and South Carolina, Emily's wrestling teams can claim 13 state place winners, five individual state champions, four (National High School Coaches Association) All-Americans, and one each USA Wrestling All-American and NHSCA National Champion.

Currently, Emily is a special education teacher and head wrestling coach at Midland Valley High School in Graniteville, S.C., one of seven new high school wrestling programs launched in Aiken County in the past two years, and subject of a June 2017 feature article in InterMat.

The first steps in writing "Pathfinder"

When asked how the book "Pathfinder" came about, Kevin Emily responded, "I was sitting here watching TV, thinking I should do something for Black History Month."

"There was the [National Wrestling] Hall of Fame exhibit with accompanying booklet that a paragraph about the guys they were honoring," Emily continued. "It didn't provide a lot of detail."

"Nate Carr gave me the encouragement -- a green light -- to write something with more detail, as he already knew there was nothing like that available already."

"This was a topic I've always wanted to know more about. I figured it was time to do something about it."

Who are the Pathfinders?

Before we go any further, it would be a good time to explain the inspiration for the book's title.

"In my mind, 'Pathfinder' means 'found a path'," Kevin Emily told InterMat. "If we can see someone do something, that sets up a vision for others to follow. It opens the door for others to emulate. Take the idea of Roger Bannister, the first athlete to run a four-minute mile back in the 1950s. It was groundbreaking; most thought it could not be done. Now thousands can do it today."

"Right from the start, there were some guys I wanted to include," Emily continued. "Then I started doing additional research and added to my list of individuals I wanted to honor."

"Every person in the book got to where they are, thanks to others."

Simon Roberts
"Pathfinders" devotes a chapter to each of the individuals who made history as African-Americans in the sport of wrestling, starting with Harold Henson (the first black to wrestle at the NCAAs, in 1949) and Simon Roberts (first African-American to win an NCAA title, in 1957) ... along with others, such as Lee Kemp, Carlton Haselrig, and Kevin Jackson ... plus some wrestlers, who despite achieving ground-breaking accomplishments in the sport, may not be as well-known to the wrestling community.

Kevin Emily interviewed the individual Pathfinders (or a surviving family member or friend, in some cases) to get the stories straight from the person who lived it.

"I wanted to glorify these guys because they look like me," said Emily. "We look to others for hope, for inspiration."

"I remember seeing Nate Carr at the Goodwill Games, and I knew that I wanted to follow in his footsteps."

"Every person in the book got to where they are, thanks to others," said Emily. "My purpose in writing the book was let others know who they are."

Harold Henson
Even though each athlete featured in "Pathfinder" has a unique story to tell, Emily pointed out some common aspects that unite most of the subjects of his book.

"These guys overcame adversity and paved the way for others to follow in their footsteps," said Emily. "That said, so many of these guys are so reserved, so humble."

Emily was humbled by the response he received from the individuals he contacted for his book.

"Nobody said no. Everyone I contacted was willing to share his story."

In fact, there are more stories to share. "Pathfinder" is actually the first volume in a two-book set. A Volume II -- featuring stories from another set of pioneering wrestlers -- will be published in fall 2017.

"Pathfinder" shares the personal testimonies of some of the nation's all-time great amateur wrestlers who happen to be African-American. The subjects of the book provide readers with a factual account of their mat careers ... all written in a compelling way that transports readers back in time, providing a "you are there" perspective. While "Pathfinder" is written for all ages, it is especially appropriate for young readers who can find inspiration in the real-life stories that may help propel them to new heights in wrestling ... and in life beyond the mat.

Volume 1 of "Pathfinder" is now available for purchase at Kevin Emily's website.

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