Gorman: Franklin Regional's Lee best in WPIAL history
Spencer Lee believes losing isn't actually losing if you learn from your mistakes. That is incredible insight from the Franklin Regional senior wrestler, especially considering one, unmistakable fact.
Lee never has lost.
Not in a high school match, anyway. Lee is 141-0 entering this weekend's PIAA championships in Hershey, where the 126-pounder is four wins away from becoming the 13th wrestler to win four state titles and only the fifth to do so with an undefeated and untied record.
Yet it doesn't begin to describe his dominance. Lee, who has five wins by forfeit, scored first and never trailed in all 136 matches he wrestled. He has 88 victories by pin and 39 by technical fall (15 points or more).
Only nine opponents have gone the six-minute distance, and one of them provided Lee a valuable lesson.
As a freshman, Lee was battling the flu when he wrestled Latrobe's Ethan McCoy in the Westmoreland County Coaches Association tournament championship. Lee built a 9-0 lead but was physically spent as McCoy scored two takedowns in the third period of a 9-5 loss. While McCoy celebrated, Lee was lying on his back on the mat.
“If you walked into the gym at that moment, you'd think I'd lost,” Lee said. “That's the worst thing that's ever happened to me in my career. If that's the worst thing that's ever happened, it's not so bad. Still, you've got to learn from it.”
Lee has learned to be cold and calculating, often toying with opponents. He has a different demeanor than your average wrestler, having set the goal of winning four state championships when he was in fifth grade. A year later, he planned to become a world champion by eighth grade (and has won three).
“I've always set lofty goals. My dad always says to shoot for the stars,” said Lee, an Iowa recruit. “My ultimate goal is to become an Olympic gold medalist. If I can't win states, I don't deserve that. I know it sounds sickening, but that's how I think. If you can't win your state, how are you going to beat a country?”
Until he accomplishes that goal, Lee will have to settle for this one: He'll go down as arguably the greatest wrestler in WPIAL history. And I say that glowingly but grudgingly, given that my cousin, the late Ty Moore, is in the conversation.
“That's all a matter of opinion. There's always going to be an argument,” Lee said. “I'm just glad you can put me up with there with people that amazing. I always say it's humbling, and it really is.”
Of the five WPIAL wrestlers who were four-time state champions, only Jefferson-Morgan's Cary Kolat (137-0) was undefeated and untied — but he wrestled in Class AA. North Allegheny's Moore (146-1) suffered a controversial loss in the WPIAL final as a junior. Waynesburg's James Conklin (70-0-1) had a tie as a freshman. McGuffey's Jeremy Hunter (171-2) lost twice as a freshman. Derry's Jimmy Gulibon had 127 wins and four losses.
Lee has no losses, only lessons he's learned. One is to not celebrate in front of an opponent, for the sake of not showing them up or giving them any sense of satisfaction. Another is to do whatever it takes to win, whether by decision or fall.
Four matches separate Lee from wrestling immortality.
“Four pins would be great,” Lee said. “To me, I just want to score points. That's it. I want to go out there and wrestle to the best of my ability. If I wrestle to the best of my ability, I'll score points.”
If Lee wrestles to the best of his ability, perhaps the best in WPIAL history, he will give a grand gesture on his way off the mat. He will raise four fingers, symbolic of four state championships, in the perfect ending to a high school career of the ultimate perfectionist.