The people of Greene County, deep in the coal country of southwest Pennsylvania, have seen it all—times when a man could work double shifts every day until his strength gave out, and times when the mines closed down and it was a struggle to find any work at all. But they have never seen a wrestler like Cary Kolat.
Three years ago, when Kolat was a freshman at Jefferson-Morgan High, his teammates began calling him Son of Gable, and since then he has proved himself worthy of comparison to Dan Gable, the renowned Iowa wrestler and 72 Olympic gold medalist. Last month Kolat completed his high school career with a 137-0 record. He won four Pennsylvania AA titles—at 119, 125, 130 and 135 pounds—and four times he was named Outstanding Wrestler at the state meet, an honor no one else had won even twice. He was reversed only five times and was never turned.
"Now they wrestle his name," says Jefferson-Morgan coach Ron Headlee. "They're beaten before they go out."
"It used to be exciting," says Cary's father, Joe. "It's not really exciting anymore."
It does get exciting when Kolat wrestles against open competition. Unlike gymnastics, swimming and tennis—sports in which it is not unusual for teens to be among the world's best—wrestling rewards the kind of strength that is built over years. Most wrestlers reach their peak in their mid-to-late 20's. Jim Carr of Erie, Pa., made the 1972 Olympic team at age 16, but precocity of that order is extremely rare.
Kolat, on the other hand, has been holding his own with the world's top wrestlers for the past three years. As a sophomore he became the first high school underclassman to wrestle in the prestigious Midlands Open, in Evanston, Ill., in which he finished third. Last spring, as a junior, he competed at the U.S. nationals, placing fourth in the 125.5-pound weight class. In November, Kolat traveled to France and won all four of his matches at the Henri Deglane Challenge, a major international meet.
Kolat's roots run deep in Greene County. His grandfathers were coal miners. Joe Kolat Sr. worked at Gateway, Wilbur Christopher at Crucible. All that's left of Gateway, which once employed 250 men, is a huge gray slag heap. Towering over the tiny wood-frame houses, it dominates this winter landscape of bare trees and dreary hollows.
"When Gateway went down last year, it really hit everybody hard," says Cary's mother, Judy.
The state broke ground recently for a maximum-security prison five miles south, near Waynesburg. "A lot of people fought that prison," says Judy.
"But it's jobs," says Joe.