August 2020 Office Update

By Dave Kemmy, Deputy Director

My Wrestling Journey

My wrestling journey began in the eighth grade at the age of 13 when a friend asked me to join the junior high wrestling team with him. Well, 45 years later, here I am working for the NWCA, and my friend lasted about a week! I was a very active youngster who was looking for direction. My dad had passed away when I was ten, and I needed to release some energy and aggression. Little did I know how my life would become so entwined with the sport of wrestling. It was one of the best decisions in my lifetime.

My high school career was very up and down, probably more highlights than lowlights, though. During my freshman year, I wrestled in the 177- pound weight class and won the freshman state title. Then I went up to the 189- pound class and my last two years at heavyweight, which back then was unlimited. The heaviest guy I wrestled in high school weighed 335 pounds! I beat him, but that was a challenge. I lived in Rhode Island, and there was very little wrestling outside of the high school season. During my entire four years of high school, I wrestled in two tournaments outside of the season. I earned All-League honors my junior year that helped propel me to a 21-1 record my senior season, and I was named to the All-State Second Team. My only loss that year was to the state champ.

At the time, my coach was very friendly with a guy named Neil Turner, who was in his first season coaching Lock Haven State College (now University). I went on a recruiting visit and decided to give D1 wrestling a shot and wrestle for the Bald Eagles. I quickly realized I was in way over my head. There were six heavyweights at the start of the season, and the top dog was a freshman named Rick Petersen, who threw me around like I was a rag doll. Looking back, I don’t feel all that bad about it because Rick had a Hall of Fame career at the Haven and was ranked #1 in the nation at one point in his career. I injured my back in a November practice and was out for the rest of the season. Coach Turner was keen enough to get me involved in the team’s administrative side as I started doing things to help the coaching staff. I soon realized that I enjoyed doing these things and working with the coaches, and Coach Turner asked if I would continue to do that after this season. Ultimately I decided to transfer back to Rhode Island College (RIC) and start my coaching career. I learned a lot from Coach Turner during that year, and he shaped my coaching career for sure.

My high school head coach asked me to be his assistant coach, so I took that job while I continued as a full-time commuting student to RIC. During this time, I started the town youth program, and we began competing during the high school season and for the first time in the spring and summer. Four years later, I became the youngest head high school wrestling coach in the state at 23. We had a rough first season, posting the ninth losing season out of the program’s last ten. That was the last losing season we had. Over the next eight years, we won 120 matches, three League championships, and 29 overall tournament championships. We won the Class A State Championship, and for four straight years, we finished second in the state championships to a program that was in the middle of a 17-year state title streak. At the end of the 1992-93 season, we finished second in the New England Championships, quite an accomplishment for our program.

After that year, our town merged school systems with a neighboring town. That next season was a difficult transition, but we still had four state champs that year and finished second in the state.

It was just not the same for me coaching this new school, so it was time to move on. We had developed a nationally ranked program with wrestlers placing at USA Wrestling national events and winning many matches. During this time, I was also the USA Wrestling state chairman for Rhode Island and coached the state freestyle and greco-roman national teams for nine years. We were able to take our national teams overseas to Italy and Germany in the early 1990s, two trips that were incredible experiences for all of us. There were not many high school groups traveling overseas to those countries during that time; we were very fortunate to have those happen.

When I became the head coach at the age of 23, I also took a position as the sports information director at RI College at the same time. I stayed in that position for six years before moving on to Roger Williams University, where I would spend the next 28 years. In my first year at Roger Williams, I started a club wrestling team and coached the club team that year while also coaching the high school program. The University started a varsity program the next year, but I continued to coach the high school team as we were very successful, and all the years of hard work with that program were beginning to pay off.

After the first year of coaching the newly merged high school team, the University team was coming off a season in which they went 0-14 and finished with four wrestlers on the team. At the time, the university athletic director basically said to me that I needed to figure out how to fix the wrestling team, or he was going to drop it. That discussion, coupled with my feelings about coaching the newly merged program, led me to leave the high school and take over the University program. That was a difficult decision as we had built one of the best programs in New England, and we had great wrestlers and parents in the program from youth to high school.

In three years, the University had gone 5-35 in dual meets and finished last in New England, two of those years. Once again, we faced a major rebuilding job. We got to work, and our first two years, we finished 9-10 and 11-12, and for the next 16 years, we did not have another losing season. We won five Pilgrim League Championships and a New England Dual Meet Championship and finished in the Top 20 nationally on two different occasions. The best experiences were indeed those when we took international trips to Finland, Holland, (Finland, Russia, and Estonia), (Ireland and Northern Ireland) and (Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.) Those memories are incredible for all of us.

The sport pretty much saved me during my high school years, and I have always tried to give back to wrestling because of that. I volunteered for many different roles in the sport, serving USA Wrestling, the D3 Coaches Association, as Commissioner of the New England Wrestling Association and the Pilgrim Wrestling League and two stints on the NCAA D3 Wrestling Committee, including three years as Chair.

I stopped coaching in 2011 after becoming the athletic director at the University in 2009. That was a difficult thing after having coached the sport for 31 years, but while I stopped coaching, I never stopped trying to give back. The relationships developed along the way, and the wrestlers we have coached always bring great pride for me. Positively touching the lives of many has always been very rewarding and a great inspiration for me.

The journey has taken me to the NWCA for the past 16 months, and I would never have thought I would be in this role. You can try and establish your path, and I certainly recommend doing that, but I am a perfect example of you never know where the sport is going to take you.
Here is one of my favorite wrestling quotes of all-time, and it pretty much sums up my career.

“It’s a sport that builds character through self-discipline. Like no other sport, that’s for sure. It’s a sport that asks all that you can give. Then it gives it all back…and more.”

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