He looked over at Wingate alumnus Emily Paffrath and said, “When you can’t beat them, join them.”
(DISCLAIMER: OK, after writing it, this seemed too perfect a beginning to me so, being both a responsible journalist and a math guy, I had to see if the numbers supported it. A look through Wingate’s record during the 2003-2007 seasons, when Paffrath was a reliable inside scorer and shot-blocker for the Bulldogs, revealed that Carson-Newman was one of the few teams that Wingate had a losing record against in that span, going 5-6. But I’m sure he also noticed that Emily’s teams were 85-29 against everybody else, so the larger point is still pretty valid. Now back to our story.)
Walsh had an opening for a graduate assistant. Emily, one year out of Wingate and wanting to pursue a Master’s degree in teaching, saw a chance to get a paid-for advanced degree.
“I knew Emily from her having played against us and was impressed with her knowledge of the game,” Walsh said. “I figured she could be very effective working with our post players and after talking with Johnny (now-retired coach Johnny Jacumin, who coached Emily at Wingate), I offered her the position. I’m glad she’s on our side now.”
And that’s worked pretty well for Paffrath for the last two years, as the Eagles have posted a 4-1 record against Wingate, where the Bakersville, N.C., native scored 1,100 career points, collected more than 700 rebounds and still holds the South Atlantic Conference women’s record for career blocked shots (327). She was recently named to the Bulldogs’ All-Decade women’s basketball team for the 2000s.
I visited with Emily briefly after Carson-Newman’s 76-65 victory over the Bulldogs in the regular-season finale for both teams. The two teams will play one more time tonight in a quarterfinal SAC tournament game in Jefferson City, Tenn. She had just spent a few minutes visiting with a couple of former teammates and members of the Wingate athletic staff, with hugs all around.
“Coming here was really hard last year, not so much this time because I don’t know as many of the players,” Paffrath said. “The seniors this year were freshmen the last year that I played. And it’s less awkward when we come in here and win.”
Emily said she has enjoyed coaching and, as an aspiring teacher, finds that the skills come naturally.
“I just try to pass along what I know about the game,” she said.
It’s possible that her coaching career may be brief. It’s definitely ending its run at Carson-Newman, where she will earn her Master’s degree in educational curriculum and instruction in May. After that, she hopes to find a teaching job back home in Mitchell County in western North Carolina. But the door is open.
“If they want me to coach basketball there, I’d definitely have to think about it,” she said, smiling.