Returning to his Roots

By on June 21, 2017

Ephrata tabs Lees as head wrestling coach

Sean  Lees,  a  former  District  champion  at  Ephrata,  was  approved  Monday as the new head wrestling coach for the Mounts. Photo by Todd Ruth

Sean Lees, a former District champion at Ephrata, was approved Monday as the new head wrestling coach for the Mounts. Photo by Todd Ruth

As a high school wrestler in the early 90s, Sean Lees was part of the “Golden Age” of Ephrata wrestling.

And while the Mounts were winning section and district team titles and were generally regarded as one of the top programs in the area during that successful run, Lees, through hard work and determination, transformed himself from being a good high school wrestler into a District champion.

Lees enjoyed a meteoric rise during his senior season in 1991, posting a 27-9-1 record and along with teammate Jason Frable went on to claim the fourth and fifth District gold medals in the history of the program.

It was one of the more remarkable runs you will ever see, both individually and as a team, and now Lees is hoping he can do the same with the current Ephrata High School program.

Monday night at Ephrata’s monthly school board meeting, Lees, 44, was approved as the new Head Coach of the Mounts. He’ll replace Josh Clair, who recently stepped down after posting a 63-175 dual meet record during his 12 years at the helm.

A coach for the last 26 years, both at the club and junior high levels, Lees comes from Cocalico, his latest stop, where he helped mold the Eagles’ junior high squads and feed what has become a powerhouse varsity squad back in the Nest.

Now, Lees returns to his roots, and he couldn’t be happier.

“I’m real excited about getting the job,” he said Monday after his appointment became official. “I’ve been wanting to coach here ever since I left. I went away for awhile but I’ve been wanting to be back here. It’s going to be good to be back. I miss Cocalico already because I made a lot of good relationships when I was there. But it’s nice to be back home.”

He takes over a program that has been hit hard by low numbers in recent years. However, Lees does believe one of his strengths is attracting kids to the program and sport.

“If I ever took over an entire (high school) program I would want it to be at my Alma Mater, especially with how the program has suffered the last few years with numbers,” he said. “I’ve always been able to recruit pretty well, mainly by word of mouth. The kids find out that it’s exciting to be at practice, the things that we talk about…I have some out-of-the-box things that I do whether it would be going down to the skatepark and trying to recruit some of those athletes, making sure I have a good relationship with the other sports and trying to recruit some of those athletes also. We are definitely looking to bring back three-sport athletes. I don’t want it to be all about wrestling unless that’s what they want to do. I’m pushing for the athletes to play more than one sport like it used to be.”

Speaking of yesteryear, Lees talked about what made him such a successful wrestler on those 90s super teams at Ephrata under then coach Merv Witmer and assistant Kerry Hyman.

“I got involved with some great athletes like Troy Minnich, Jason Frable and Shawn Knapik,” Lees said. “Those guys were probably the three biggest influences for me personally. They got me out to J. Robinson’s (Camp) in Minnesota. I spent two summers out there, a month each summer, and it was just learning that attitude. I really had high expectations for myself. Troy, Jason and Shawn…we went all over the place and I took a lot of butt whoopings to get to that point. I think that’s what it was for me…just having good teammates. And Kerry Hyman I think was one of the most influential coaches at that point in time. He was so charismatic and so passionate about the sport…he really affected that whole group of guys. He had us all believing that we could do some big things. And we accomplished some pretty cool stuff.”

Despite the recent lull, Lees sees a lot of promise in the program and the current group he is taking over. And in time, he feels there is no reason the Mounts can’t enjoy similar, if not greater success going forward.

“We really want to exceed those things that we did in the 90s,” he said. “That’s definitely the goal. You don’t shoot for anything less than greatness. The goal is to be a State-caliber team. The timeframe? I have an aggressive timeframe on it but it will be with everyone buying into it. The administration has bought in to what I’m selling, and if the kids buy it and the parents will buy it…I think it will be shorter than what most people think.”

First things first, he’d like to see his kids develop some of the same characteristics he and his former teammates possessed during their heyday.

“The number one thing that I’ve been preaching for a long time is attitude and effort,” he said. “If you have a good attitude and give your best effort, the winning will take care of itself. I really don’t talk about winning. It’s really about your effort, what you do in the room, and I’d say for me personally, what I’d like them to take away from me is they can achieve a lot more than people say they can. That’s how it was with me personally, and how it continues to be.”

Heading into next year, despite graduating District qualifiers Austin Jones, Cameron Terry and Tyler Mentzer, Lees said he believes the Mounts are set up to have some success.

“The biggest goal this first season for the high school team…we are set up pretty well,” he said. “Our middle school team has some of the best coaches, the athletes are solid, and our elementary program has some incredible coaches and good numbers so we are in a really good situation down the road. This first year I just want to make sure teams know that they wrestled us when they step out on the mat. Again, it’s the attitude and effort. If we just put it out there and battle, the winning will take care of itself. If they work hard in the room, when a guy gets done wrestling us, they know that they had a match. I really think that’s what I did at Cocalico and anywhere I’ve coached. Just make sure my athletes were prepared to battle.”

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