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Wrestling With Greatness

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Franklin Regional sophomore Spencer Lee has a chance to be considered the best wrestler the WPIAL has seen since his hero, Cary Kolat, won four state titles with an undefeated record of 137-0 at Jefferson-Morgan in the early 90’s.

The 16-year-old phenom has won two PIAA triple-A state championships with a perfect record of 97-0 in his first two high school seasons, and has been called the best wrestler in the country for his age class by multiple national wresting websites. 

“Spencer doesn’t just want to win a match. That’s not good enough,” Franklin Regional High School assistant wrestling coach Sean Gill said.

“I want to dominate my opponents,” Lee said. 

Those closest to the sports have marveled at Lee’s deftness on the mat at such a young age.

“Spencer is ultra-aggressive and technically superior to just about any high school wrestler I have ever seen,” said Tom Elling, editor of the Pennsylvania Wrestling website.

In addition to his perfect record and two state championships, Lee’s tournament titles include the Ironman, Powerade and UWW Cadet Nationals.

Lee’s abilities and accomplishments at his age can rival any wrester in western Pennsylvania’s storied history, including Kolat and Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle, who wrested at Mt. Lebanon from 1984-87 and went on to win Olympic gold, Elling said. 

“I just like to go out and score as many points as quickly as I can,” Lee said. “Scoring points is fun for me.”

Lee attributes much of his wresting and athletic ability to his parents, both highly accomplished judo competitors. His mother competed as an alternate on the 1992 Olympic judo ladder, while his father has been a judo coach on the national level and a Paralympic coach at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado.

Lee said that his parents were hopeful he would follow in their footsteps, but the lack of competitive judo leagues in Western PA prevented that. He was soon turned to wrestling by “peer pressure” from his friends at the age of six.

Five years later, he won the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling tournament as a 80-pound fifth grader, at which point he realized just how far he could take the sport he had grown to love.

“My dad thought I was going to be a normal kid – play a couple sports and be okay,” Lee said.  “Once I won that, I thought to myself, ‘If I can work hard and stay humble this is something I can be really good at.’”

It was also at that time when his friends and teammates began calling him “crazy” after they learned he won the tournament on a broken ankle suffered months prior during the football season. 

“I love his intensity,” Gill said. “He has the same intensity during practice as he does before a state final.”

Off the mat, Lee is far from what one might expect from an adolescent that regularly dominates college competitors.

“I’m kind of a nerd,” Lee said. “On the bus to a match, other guys are talking about who they have, but I just like to sit there and play my Nintendo DS.” 

“We call him ‘The Kid,’” Franklin Regional head coach Eric Mausser said. “He still watches cartoons… I walked into his room the night before the state championship and he’s watching SpongeBob.”  

Cartoons aside, Lee is abundantly animated once inside the circle.

While some elite wrestlers his age have burned out and lost interest in the sport along the way in the past, Lee doesn’t appear to be stopping any time soon, said Jason Bryant, President of the National Wrestling Media Association.

“Some kids look bored or uninterested during the matches. That’s not the case with Spencer,” Bryant said.  “You can physically see in his face that he enjoys the sport.” 

Lee ran into an obstacle at this summer’s UWW Cadet Nationals, falling to rival Daton Fix of Oklahoma, another 17-year-old who has also dominated college competitors.Franklin Regional Spencer Lee

Looking ahead, although Lee aims to take “one match and opponent at a time,” he has his sights set on matching his idol Kolat’s perfect career record and four PIAA championships – something done only 12 times ever in western Pennsylvania.n no rush to make a decision about his future with two years of high school wrestling remaining. 

“I just want him to be a kid for now,” Gill said.

However, many around the sport are not exercising the same restraint in considering his future beyond high school.

“I see him as a multiple college All-American,” Bryant said. “When you’ve got a kid with that good of coaching around him, his ceiling is where he wants it to be.”

“He’s going to be a special and he’s already an even more special person,” Gill said.

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