Rick Lee was a local success story and each year his contributions are honored when the Bemidji High School wrestling team hosts an invitational that bears his name.
The 2012 event is Saturday at the high school and Bemidji will be joined by 10 teams, including neighboring Blackduck-Cass Lake-Bena-Indus.
Lee was raised in Bemidji and was a natural wrestler. In 1967 he participated in his first state high school meet and the next winter he finished fifth in his weight class.
In 1969 Lee joined an elite group of Lumberjack wrest-lers when he won a state title.
Lee's contributions to Bemidji wrestling did not end with his high school graduation. In 1981 he became the varsity high school coach and he continued in that capacity until illness forced him to retire in 1987.
Cancer eventually proved to be the one opponent that Lee could not defeat but, even though Lee is gone, his contributions continue to inspire Bemidji's wrestlers at every level.
"As a head coach and as a person Rick is someone I look up to and admire," said current BHS coach Rance Bahr. "I hope I am able to continue what Rick Lee started by bringing passion, enthusiasm and inspiration to everyone within our wrestling program.
"We want wrestling to be fun here in Bemidji but, most importantly, we want kids to leave our program as better young men. We want them to have a positive experience and learn skills and lessons that will help them to be successful in their future," Bahr added.
Rob Whelan, who also is a former BHS state champion and Lumberjack coach, teamed with Lee to begin the Bemidji Wrestling Club. Today the club boasts more than 150 youngsters in grades kindergarten through fifth who represent the future of Lumberjack wrestling.
"Rick was an inspiration to wrestlers and coaches," Whelan said. "Everyone liked Rick. He was a dynamite person with a dynamite personality. He was always willing to help anyone with anything."
Saturday's Rick Lee Invitational begins with the first round of junior varsity competition at 9 a.m. Varsity wrestling will start at 10 a.m.
Action will climax about 5 p.m. when the varsity championship matches are scheduled to begin.