Signed, sealed, delivered: Savoy man a premier autograph hunter

Signed, sealed, delivered: Savoy man a premier autograph hunter

In Kyle Emkes' large Savoy basement sits a weathered wooden locker room door from Childersburg High School in Alabama, chipped and scratched from years of use, inscribed in black marker with graffiti reading "Margee and Chris 91-92."

Almost a decade after Margee and Chris' initial signature, Gerald Wallace won the Naismith National Prep Player of the Year Award as a senior for Childersburg. Emkes, then a student at Mahomet-Seymour, had sent the future NBA All-Star a letter asking for an autograph, as he did with so many athletes. The timing was fortuitous because Childersburg's locker room just so happened to be undergoing a remodel.

His coach "said if I were interested, he would have Gerald sign a locker-room door and he would mail it to me," said Emkes, who began collecting autographs in junior high. "I couldn't believe that that was possible."

Wallace's signature is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of autographs in Emkes' basement.

Today, the 2002 Mahomet-Seymour graduate is a pro at procuring them. He subscribes to a website where he can track the packages he's mailed and other autograph collectors share their success stories and help him glean what he estimates is an 80 percent return on autograph inquiries that he sends out.

The hobby started as his mother's idea to improve his messy handwriting when he was in middle school. Emkes, after all, loved receiving mail.

"The excitement of getting mail had a big part to do with it," he said. "The only way you could increase your letters, living out in the country, is that you have to write letters."

Back then, Emkes considered himself a budding football player, and he decided to send a letter to then-Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz stating his desire to someday play for the Irish. He quickly received a response from Holtz, telling him to work hard and keep his grades up.

"For him taking the time to respond," said Emkes, who eventually switched to cross-country and ran for Illinois, "it really kind of fueled the fire that continued to this day."

From there, he and Mahomet-Seymour cross-country and track teammate Jordan Johnson, who has an autograph collection similar to Emkes, began sending letters to top college runners asking for words of wisdom.

Emkes' collection grew steadily from there as he refined his tactics. He progressed from sending cards to mailing copies of magazines. Several years ago, he challenged himself to get a Sports Illustrated signed each year by that year's Master's champion, and he has a row of framed magazines on his wall signed by Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. He has an Illinois wall, complete with autographed jerseys from Dick Butkus, Deron Williams, Vontae Davis and Arrelious Benn, among others.

He eventually branched out beyond sports figures. During law school, he wrote all of the Supreme Court Justices asking for autographs and words of advice, and several responded. He has a photo of the NASA control room taken just a few hours after the Apollo 13 explosion, signed by one of the people involved in the astronauts' safe return home. He's written various Medal of Honor winners, thanking them for their service and asking for autographs. Photos with signatures of various celebrities fill several binders, including Mr. Rogers, Leslie Nielsen, Alex Trebek, Burt Reynolds and hundreds more.

He stashed away his memorabilia in boxes until he finally moved into a house with his wife and children with a basement that was large enough to display them. Still, he has far too many to display, and he jokes with his wife that they've outgrown their current residence.

For all of his ambition to pile up autographs, he has boundaries. He doesn't bother people at meals. And if he's next to a child when attempting to get an autograph, he makes sure to let the kid step in front.

"You wait for that opportunity for when they have some time to kill," he said.

With his basement as evidence, Emkes doesn't acquire autographed memorabilia with the intention of selling them. He did create an Ebay account in high school to offset the cost of stamps. Now, he sells autographs when he has duplicates or decides he no longer wants a particular celebrity's memorabilia.

For Emkes, it's about the thrill, and that feeling hasn't changed over the years. A few weeks ago, he saw a package at his doorstep and his heart began beating a little faster. He smiled as he opened the package to find the No. 85 Colts jersey he had sent days earlier, signed by former Illinois tight end Ken Dilger.

"It's almost like Christmas morning again when you're a little kid," he said. "Every time I see a 9-by-12 envelope in my mailbox, I have to say my heart races and I get a little excited. The excitement doesn't wane as you get older.

"When you actually get to see a sports star or celebrity take time out of their day to sign an autograph for you, although they're busy ... has been the most exciting part for me."

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