National wrestling honor won by Columbus' Paul Kite

Former Hardaway, CSU athlete wins Medal of Courage

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerMarch 1, 2014 

Robin Trimarchi rtrimarchi@leder-enquirer.com Paul Kite of Columbus, last year's tournament winner, studies the green during Saturday's round of the 31st Annual Purple & Gold Golf Tournament at the Follow Me Golf Course on Fort Benning. 06.26.10

ROBIN TRIMARCHI

Before the final match of the Georgia High School Association wrestling championships was to be called to the mat two weeks ago, Columbus' Paul Kite was to be summoned to center stage for a special honor.

The matches were postponed along with the announcement that the longtime wrestling official, a Hardaway High School and Columbus State University athlete, is to receive the Medal of Courage from the Georgia Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

When the state title bouts were held in several locations last week, instead of in a single venue, Kite officiated the Dublin events on Friday and Saturday, but no announcement was made.

Today, however, Kite and other Georgians being inducted into the chapter's 2014 Hall of Fame rolls, will be honored at a dinner in Atlanta, where their accomplishments will be aired and their deeds toasted.

The honor will be noted and displayed not only in Georgia wrestling annals, it will be on display in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Stillwater, Okla.

For the 46-year-old former wrestler and baseball player, the Medal of Courage was earned not for his stellar officiating. It's in recognition of the devotion he has displayed through two debilitating bouts with cancer, and the impact he has had on those with whom he has come in contact through the sport.

"You used the disciplines learned from wrestling to become a role model to young people, making the right decision as opposed to the easy decision when confronted with life choices," wrote Lee Roy Smith, executive director of the NWHF in his letter notifying Kite of the award.

"This award acknowledges that your life was significant and you are leaving behind a benchmark example and legacy."

Although the national association and its state chapter won't officially induct Kite and other 2014 honorees until its Sept. 14 meeting in Atlanta, Kite was notified of the honor in advance of the postponed state wrestling meet.

"Wrestling has almost always been a part of my life," Kite said. "To receive this award -- it's an honor because it's really about character and integrity. You never get a second chance at integrity when it comes to kids. This is about lifetime service to wrestling and being around the kids and doing the right things."

That Kite is still able to officiate at wrestling meets -- 29 years and counting -- despite two bouts with Hodgkin's Lymphoma amazes some of his cohorts.

"The first time didn't affect his officiating," said Mark Massey, president of the Columbus Wrestling Officials Association and the man who pushed Kite to take his skills beyond the regional level.

"But the latest -- well that just about killed my little buddy. He spent a whole month in a bed in Atlanta and we wondered if he'd even make it out of the hospital," Massey said. "He hadn't been out of the hospital three months when we had the Hardaway tournament and an official was late. Paul showed up in blue jeans, still recovering, and I said, 'Here's your whistle. Go out there.' He called seven or eight matches before the official showed up.

"That's why he's one of the top officials in the state of Georgia," Massey said, citing his dedication to the sport and his competitiveness as traits he has always seen in Kite.

"Had he been a foot taller," he said of his 5'6" friend, "he'd probably have been in the baseball hall of fame. He's a good athlete."

Kite vividly recalls the Hardaway matches he was called out of the stands to officiate. "I refereed six matches in jeans and a T-shirt. I could barely get down and get back up," he said.

But he did, just as he has done in combating the deadly disease that has attempted to sideline him twice.

The first time came in May 2007, when he went though six months of chemotherapy after it was discovered he had Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The chemotherapy was tough, but he got through it and was told there was a more than 90 percent chance the disease would never return. He remained clear for more than three years.

But in a routine checkup in August 2010, the cancer was found to have returned and in December Kite was dispatched to Emory Hospital in Atlanta, where he went through a rigorous chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant.

"That was the toughest thing I have ever had to face," he said.

The first chemotherapy in 2007 was spread out over six weeks, but at Emory, he received more chemotherapy in a single day than he did in a week during his previous treatment.

While at Emory, only his father and his fiancée were allowed to visit his hospital floor. Children were not permitted out of fear an infectious organism might be brought onto the floor. He could only visit by computer with Jackson, now 13, and Tucker, now 10.

"At first, I thought, 'I can tough that out,'" said Kite. "But it came to a point when I looked at my dad and said, 'I want to go home.'

"He said, 'No. You've got to finish.' "

He did finish and he's had a clean bill of health at every checkup since leaving Emory three years ago.

The fight against cancer was, in a way, similar to being a wrestler, he said. You have to make the weight in your class, and it takes self-discipline to do that time after time. It's something you just have to go through.

Ironically, Kite is being honored for a sport he never considered being a part of until he was walking down a hallway at Hardaway High School, where he was a sophomore member of the baseball team.

"I saw this little guy walking down the hall … and he had on a letter jacket. He said he was on the wrestling team," Kite said. "I followed him into a cafeteria meeting and asked how I could get on the team."

He wrestled at the 105-pound class for three years at Hardaway, part of a team that won 11 of 14 weight classes at its area tournaments and tied for fourth in the AAAA state tournament. He graduated in 1985.

But ask Kite what achievements he's proudest of during his wrestling and officiating career and he'll point not to his past recognition as Official of the Year, or being a part of the officiating crew of Stacey Davis, the Atlanta official selected to officiate at the 2012 Olympic Games.

"During my 29 years, I've never had to eject a coach - and I've been selected to officiate the state tournaments," Kite said.

"The Medal of Courage is presented annually to a wrestler or former wrestler who has overcome what appear to be insurmountable challenges, which may be physical, mental or other disabilities that make their achievements all the more uplifting." - The National Wrestling Hall of Fame

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