For the last three weeks of the season, Andre Lee has been wrestling with a broken left hand.
At this weekend’s Class 3A state individual tournament, Lee plans on removing the white padded, soft cast he has been using to protect his hand during meets. Even without being able to form a grip, the Oak Park-River Forest junior finished second at 195 pounds in the Maine East Sectional on Saturday to advance to state for the first time.
“I don’t think about (the pain) when I’m out there,” Lee said. “I’ve been taking a lot of ibuprofen. It helps.”
Lee has missed only one match with his hand injury. He rested for the final regular-season dual meet at Marmion Jan. 24.
Lee and junior Johnny Gahagan, along with five freshmen, will make their first appearance in the state meet. A school-record 11 OPRF wrestlers have qualified for state, which begins Thursday night in Champaign.
“(Lee) has never wrestled before his freshman year,” OPRF coach Mike Powell said. “Colleges have been sleeping on him (with little recruiting), but that is until this summer. He is a special athlete.”
Lee actually did attempt to wrestle before entering high school. His first effort ended after a month when he dropped out due to an asthma condition. In the seventh grade, he broke his arm one week into practicing with the Little Huskies feeder program.
But during Lee’s freshman season, one of his best friends, Emonte Logan, suggested that they both go out for the wrestling team together. Lee went 23-3.
“I was a lot stronger than everybody,” said Lee, who went 6-foot, 200 pounds during this past football season.
Lee is one of four football players wrestling for the Huskies. Davonte Mahomes played varsity, Adam Lemke-Bell was on the sophomore team and freshmen Kamal Bey and Allen Stallings were first-year players.
“(Lee) does a great job for us on the football field,” OPRF football coach John Hoerster said. “He’s able to do that (play defensive end) because he’s unbelievably strong. He has a great motor and tremendous overall strength.”
Lee might be one of OPRF’s top athletes in wrestling and football, but his favorite sport growing up was water polo.
Lee attended Brooks Jr. High and joined the Windy City water polo club while following his older brother, Armando, who graduated from OPRF in 2011.
“I think that (water polo) is really fun,” Andre Lee said. “I like everything about it.”
Their mother Adalene was the biggest influence behind her sons swimming competitively and playing water polo. They both joined Windy City, but once they entered OPRF, only Armando remained committed to the pool.
“At that age, (swimming) was not my choice,” Andre said. “My mom pretty much threw us in the pool. I always liked the water.”
Lee’s days as a swimmer ended when he started playing football in seventh grade.
He remains committed to wrestling now. While he could return to water polo as a three-sport athlete in the spring, he spends his time competing with a freestyle and Greco-Roman club called La Flama Blanca (The White Flame), which includes several teammates from OPRF.