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Like father, like son: Lee and Ryan Fish enjoy success at Kids/Cadet and Veteran Folkstyle Nationals

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa - Once upon a time, Lee Fish could more than hold his own on a wrestling mat.

He placed fifth at the Minnesota state tournament and was a Division III national qualifier for Hamline (Minn.) University.

But those days were a long time ago. Roughly a quarter century ago.

Inspired by his son's entry into youth wrestling, the 47-year-old Fish made a triumphant return to the mat by placing second in the Veterans 215-pound competition Saturday at USA Wrestling's ASICS Kids/Cadet and Veteran Folkstyle National Championships.

Fish dropped his first bout at the UNI-Dome before rebounding to earn a 4-3 win in his second match in the round-robin format. It was the first time he has competed in a wrestling match in 24 years.

Fish's son, Ryan, 9, earned a victory in his first match Saturday morning in the 87-pound Midget competition. Ryan is competing in his first national event after placing third in Midgets in Illinois.

"My son is the one who got me back into wrestling," said Lee Fish, a traffic consultant from Oak Park, Ill., who just completed his first season as an assistant wrestling coach at Fenwick High School. "I decided to show my son how much I still love wrestling and how much I still enjoy it by competing in this tournament. Wrestling is something we can share and do together, and have fun with."

Father coached son during the morning session Saturday before Ryan coached his dad from his corner during the Veterans competition on Saturday afternoon.

"My son gave me some pointers that helped me after I lost my first match," Lee said. "He told me to follow through more on my shots, and he talked to me about a couple times where I could have taken a shot and scored more points. What he said definitely helped me."

Lee Fish said his return to competition was not a one-and-done deal.

"Oh no, not at all," he said. "I'll be back next year. I had a blast. I didn't know quite what to expect. But I love to compete and I realized today how much I miss this."

Wrestling in matches consisting of a two-minute first period followed by two one-minute periods was another adjustment for the elder Fish.

"I did train for this and I'm in condition for the long haul - I have pretty good endurance," Fish said. "But those 10-second bursts and scrambles, you really get fatigued and they're tough to recover from. Now I know what to expect when I come back next year."

Lee is most proud of what his son is doing.

"Ryan's made tremendous progress," his father said. "He's doing really well and he's having fun. That's what it's all about."

Packed house at the UNI-Dome

Nearly 1,500 competitors took to the mats Saturday as the event kicked off with a 20-mat setup on top of the artificial turf football playing surface at the University of Northern Iowa.

Cadets topped the list of entries with 451, followed by Schoolboy (405), Novice (339), Midget (227) and Veteran (45) wrestlers.

All-Americans on display

The event resumes Sunday morning with the All-American Parade set for 8:30 a.m. Kids and Cadets take the mats again at 9 a.m. on Sunday. Medal matches and finals will be held for all remaining brackets.
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