Lee tourney is irresistible, even from Azerbaijan

The Lee High Invitational wresting tournament, which features 600 matches during two days, is big doings to the wrestlers, parents and coaches who come from far and wide.

A champion is crowned in each of 14 weight classes, and the tournament once attracted future Olympic gold medalist Kenny Monday, then an Oklahoma high school wrestler.

But no one travels farther than meet co-director Patrick O’Quinn. He lives in Baku, Azerbaijan, but flies home each January to run the tournament along with co-director Judy Collins.

O’Quinn’s love of wrestling began when he wrestled for Lee High’s renowned coach Bill Bofinger. Now as tournament co-director, O’Quinn says, he’s simply trying to live up to the standard of excellence Bofinger embodied.

WHEN: Jan. 9 and 10

WHERE: Ketchum Fitness Center, the former CapElite facility, on Bluebonnet Boulevard.

ADMISSION: $5 per day both days. For more information visit leehighwrestling.com.

Apparently, it’s working. “It’s a first-class tournament every year,” says wrestling coach Mark Moreau of Zachary High School.

High school wrestlers usually compete within their own state and against schools of similar size, but Lee High’s invitational is unbound by state lines or classifications. Competitors come from all over the state and beyond—a single slip-up often spells defeat.

“Winning Lee means something,” Moreau says. Winners’ names join the ranks of previous champs in the record book, which is part program, part history book, and serves as a goal to which all wrestlers aspire.

While the level of competition brings competitors back, it’s the pride of running such an event that keeps O’Quinn coming back. “I like the sport, and there is a little bit of pride in putting on a tournament like this, one that is considered to be one of the best in the area—in the state,” says O’Quinn. He adds that he loves hearing the kids say after each tournament, “We’ll be back next year.”

The same can be said for O’Quinn—overseas flight or not.