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Win by Westmoore Junior High wrestler 'warmed our hearts'


MOORE — Cheers erupted when Eric Lee’s name was announced.

The noise continued to increase as Lee rose from the bench and jogged a lap around the wrestling mat in a packed gym at Brink Junior High in Moore.

After his opponent was introduced, Lee approached the center of the mat, ready to make his debut for the Westmoore Junior High wrestling team.

Lee, an eighth-grader with Down syndrome, was finally in the spotlight.

He squared off against his Westmoore teammate, Brody Baughman, before the Jaguars competed against Lawton on Tuesday. After just over 30 seconds of action, Lee pinned Baughman, who happily played along to create the special moment.

Baughman aided Lee throughout the match, initiating contact before slowly falling to the ground and helping Lee secure the pin.

The crowd went crazy when Lee earned the victory.

“It warmed our hearts,” said Lee’s mother, Joy. “It just made us proud.”

Westmoore Junior High wrestling coach Brad Dick proposed the idea of having a special-needs student compete in a special match.

Dick coaches football and teaches at Brink, one of two schools that has students in the Westmoore Junior High wrestling program. Lee and Baughman both attend Brink.

Dick, who got involved in Special Olympics roughly six years ago while coaching at Mustang High School, pitched his idea to Brink’s special education department. He wanted the match to take place during the team’s lone dual at Brink this season. Most of the team's home meets are at Westmoore High School.

The special education department approved Dick's request and chose Lee to take part in the match. Lee had not wrestled before but has been interested in several sports throughout his life.

“I wanted to show our kids, our community that no matter what the obstacle is, everyone has a chance to succeed and compete,” Dick said.

Brink students had the option to get out of class by paying to attend Tuesday’s dual, with proceeds going to the Moore Public Schools philanthropic initiative “Moore Love.” Students packed the stands and created a raucous atmosphere.

Kenny Ritchie officiated the dual. Ritchie, the Big 12 Conference coordinator of wrestling officials, was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2015 for his legendary officiating career.

Ritchie was thrilled when he showed up Tuesday and learned about the plan involving Lee. Coincidentally, his wife is a special education teacher.

“He (Ritchie) always wanted to referee a special-needs match and raise the hand of a special-needs kid,” Dick said.

Ritchie got his wish.

After the match, Ritchie rushed to Lee before pulling the eighth-grader’s hand up and showing him off to the crowd.

Lee will not wrestle again this season, but his family is grateful for the memory. And although Lee relies mostly on non-verbal methods of communication, he was clearly joyful on Tuesday.

He inspired his teammates, too.

“After Eric’s win, we went on to win the match 66-6,” Dick said. “Eric kind of propelled us.”

Nick Sardis

Nick Sardis joined The Oklahoman in 2017, and he covers high school sports. Born and raised in Norman, he played baseball at Norman North High School and is a student at the University of Oklahoma. Read more ›