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According to popular belief, the Utah Stars ended up with the best of last year's high school athletes when they signed 6'11", 215-pound Moses Malone. Rising up to challenge that notion is the University of Kentucky's Jimmy Carr, a 5'4" 126-pounder. Five-foot-four? One hundred twenty-six pounds? Why, he couldn't even guard Monte Towe.
Well, Carr doesn't guard people so much as he bends them. What's more, with a swift single-arm drag, a devastating cradle and a dandy suplay, he already is showing signs of becoming the cornerstone of a new athletic dynasty.
Three years ago, a 17-year-old high school junior out of Erie, Pa., Carr became the youngest American ever to wrestle on an Olympic team and the youngest competitor in his sport at the Munich Games. He might be pint-sized and baby-faced, but Carr has manhandled opponents in just about every way imaginable, including stuffing one into a garbage can.
Wrestling fans were as shocked by Carr's enrollment at Kentucky as basketball buffs would have been had Malone gone to Bemidji State. The South is one of those areas of the country which wrestling has hardly taken by storm; in fact, Kentucky didn't even have a team until last season. There was a good reason for Carr's decision, however. The coach of that first Wildcat squad was one of Jimmy's big brothers.
There are many similarities in the careers, physiques, personalities and even in the illnesses of Jimmy and Coach Fletcher Carr Jr., although size is not one of them—Fletcher is 6'3�" and 195 pounds. Both are square of shoulder and jaw, and both have relaxed, handsome smiles, which they use as conversational exclamation marks instead of raising their voices. Neither might have wrestled had it not been for some odd designs in the tapestry of their lives, which once were distinctly separate but now are lightly interwoven.
As Fletcher practiced football one day in the seventh grade, a pebble became imbedded in his left leg. He dug it out and forgot about it until the next morning. Then, during a mile walk to school, Fletcher's leg hurt so much that he passed out. Hospitalized seven weeks, he was told by physicians that they had considered amputation because the bone marrow had become infected.
Fletcher's wrestling career got rolling soon after his recovery, on the day he went out for swimming at Erie's East High School. When he was unable to find the team meeting, he strolled down the hall, saw wrestlers working out and dealt himself in. Fletcher lit into some of the boys with such gusto that the coach invited him back the next day. The result of that offhand invitation has been a succession of wrestling Carrs, easily the best of whom—so far—is Jimmy.
When Jimmy was in fifth grade he developed a serious staph infection in his right leg. Again the doctors contemplated amputation to halt the spread of infection. "At first they couldn't operate to try to save the leg because I had such a high temperature," Jimmy says. "Mom asked me if I wanted the leg cut off. I said, 'No, try to operate.' They put me in a tub of ice and sat me in front of a fan to get my temperature down. It worked and they saved my leg. I must have been in the hospital four or live months and had to start fifth grade all over the next year."
While making that second go at fifth grade, Jimmy was "convinced" by Fletcher and another older brother, Joe, that he should start wrestling. At first, Jimmy wanted no part of it—he hid behind posts in the wrestling room—but when he was finally pulled from hiding he was surprised to discover he could toss other people around.
It was the next summer that Jimmy first encountered Tom Canavan, who was to become one of the most significant figures in his life. Canavan, a local tavern owner and longtime wrestling coach at the Erie Downtown YMCA, was preparing for a citywide tournament when he and Jimmy met. "It was two days before the tournament and Jimmy was practicing," Canavan recalls. "He had just been in some kind of trouble and had a dozen stitches in his wrist. I saw that the bandage was soaked with blood, so I told him he shouldn't be working out. 'I'll be all right,' Jimmy said. He sure was. Jimmy finished first in his weight class—about 80 pounds—and was selected as the outstanding wrestler of the tournament."