National High School Coaches Association

Henry Priest Bio

East LA Gang Member Turned Filmmaker

From the street gangs of East Los Angeles to the high school wrestling mat to the silver screen. One street kid was saved from gangs by sports and later turned his experience into a career in film!

"You should be given an award for the things you do to represent our sport in Hollywood" says Olympic Champion and legendary wrestling coach Dan Gable about independent film producer and former high school wrestler Henry K. Priest.

Over the years Henry has become the "go to" guy to produce wrestling scenes in commercials such as Nike, Adidas, SBC Global and many independent films. But that's not the only interesting thing about his story...

"Unbelievable" says Robert Ferraro, the Executive Director of the National High school Coaches Association about Henry's true-life story.

Henry K. Priest was born and raised in the urban barrio of East Los Angeles, California where gangs are a not a way of life, they are the way of life for many. His life is a trial of adventures from gangs to the silver screen... His unique experience has been recognized as an inspirational story of perseverance.

At an early age Henry participated in gang activity. For over three generations his family and friends had succumbed to the pressures to join the local gangs in the community. Henry fought the peer pressure and refused to join them. In high school Henry joined the wrestling team and things began to change for the better. As a member of the Varsity wrestling team he found new friends and mentors who helped him direct his life in a new direction. His attitude changed as he learned how to set and accomplish goals. His grades improved and he was on his way to a successful wrestling career

Henry's experience growing up in a community of gang violence truly tested his commitment to sports and school. On a daily bases he was challenged by gang members, many of them were even his own family members who were stirring him away from the sports. While Henry was wrestling on the mat his is cousins were participating in gang violence ending up in jail or getting shot. His stories about his battle to stay out of the gang are shockingly powerful. Although he was continually tested Henry maintained his grades and stayed on track.

Upon graduation from high school Henry did not have aspirations to attend college since no one in his family had went before him. To his surprise his wrestling coaches presented him with a $300 scholarship to attend the community college. "If you could succeed in wrestling, you could succeed in anything else in life." That was the message his coach relayed to him. That message still resonates throughout Henry's life today. In the Fall Henry began his college years and joined the wrestling team.

While on the team his coach received notice that Walt Disney Pictures was filming a movie about a high school wrestling team and he sent the team to audition. Without any formal acting experience, Henry was fortunate to be selected to be an actor in the film starring Robert Urich titled Spooner. Nine months later the film was broadcast nationally on the Walt Disney Channel and other major TV networks. Henry was seen on the television screens all across the country. Although this was Henry's introduction to the film industry he didn't pursue a career in film at this point but rather continued his education. Henry eventually obtained his Associates degree from East Los Angeles Community College, a Bachelors degree in History form Whittier College and a Professional Clear Single Subject Credential from Whittier College.

Upon graduation from college Henry began to coach wrestling and started a career as a teacher. During that time many of his wrestlers won state titles and All-American honors. He even coached the youth wrestling team to three Southern California Championships. Eventually Henry returned the favor his coach once extended to him by allocating over $30,000 in scholarships to his alumni in East Los Angeles. With his unique experience growing up in an urban environment and overcoming the odds by pursuing a career as a teacher Henry focused on working with the "at risk" student population to develop programs to curtail high drop out rates in the community. While Henry was on the path to make change in the educational community he also kept a foot in the industry by acting in and producing many independent films.

In 2002 Henry decided to pursue a career in the film industry fulltime. Today he has served the industry as an actor, film and TV producer, special event producer, film festival director, casting director and amateur wrestling technical advisor. Henry is "go-to" person to produce amateur wrestling in film. He has written, directed, choreographed and produced scenes in commercials like Nike and Adidas and other companies. He has also been a casting director for feature films and a commercial for America Online. In 2004 he received an award at National Association of Latino Independent Producers Conference (NALIP) for producing the award winning film UnderDog. "Wonderful, truly wonderful" says Terry Davis, the writer of the epic wrestling film titled Vision Quest about UnderDOG. The following year Henry received a second award at the event for the film Sunday Evening Haircut written by and staring Reginald VelJohnson (Family Matters). Live event productions include Urban Graffiti Acting and Poetry Slam, Future Estrellas Young Latino Performers Conference and the American Latino Film Festival in Hollywood.

Currently Henry has many projects in development including a story about his life. Other projects include American Identity, produced by and starring Jesse Garcia (Sundance winning film Quinceanera); Co-Producer of Lola Goes to Roma, penned by Josefina Lopez (Sundance winning film Real Women Have Curves); Beyond the Mat, a feature film slated as the next high school wrestling epic. His latest acting credit is in a music video for the song titled Work It Out by the hip hop band Jurassic 5 currently airing.

This Fall Henry is traveling through out the state of Pennsylvania presenting leadership workshops for the National High School Coaches Association. He was recently appointed the Executive Producer of the National High School Coaches Association Productions. The organization produces over 20 national championship and 75 state championship events in a variety of sports. Henry is developing feature film and television programs for the organization. Their projects include a true story based on the life of former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Larry Holmes, among others.

Memberships include Nosotros, an organization founded by Ricardo Montalban to improve the image and create resources for Latinos in entertainment and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers. Currently he serves on the Screen Actors Guilds Ethnic Employment Opportunities Committee. Henry resides in Los Angeles and enjoys independent film and surfing on his free time.

"Wrestling saved my life. I joined the team and things began to start making sense. With new friends, grades going up and mentors guiding me along... I knew I was doing something right." said Henry about his introduction to the sport that he credits for helping him develop many life skills.

Henry is available to present his inspiring life story. He will share his shocking stories of growing up among a family of murderers, drug dealers and deviants, all while he was trying to do right by his coaches. In the end, he will leave audiences inspired to set and accomplish goals and motivated to make change in society.