Souhan: Prep wrestler hopes his sport's comeback story matches his own

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 16, 2013 - 10:04 PM

 Wrestling is a sport for survivors, such as St. Michael-Albertville's Mitchell McKee.


Mitchell McKee working out at Pinnacle Club Wrestling with co-owner Brandon Paulson.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

When the International Olympic Committee proposed dropping wrestling from the 2020 Games in favor of such sports as equestrian, modern pentathlon and trampoline, the IOC again revealed itself as tone deaf.

Wrestling is, historically and philosophically, a seminal Olympic sport, a primal test of strength, skill, toughness and willpower. It is also a sport filled with admirable athletes and transcendent stories such as Mitchell McKee, who 15 years ago today left a hospital ahead of schedule and against all odds.

McKee is a freshman on the St. Michael-Albertville wrestling team. He is ranked first in the state at 106 pounds in Class 3A. He finished second at the state tournament as a seventh- and eighth-grader. He's won, he thinks, "25 or so" national tournaments and made the FILA Cadet World Team that represented the U.S. in Azerbaijan.

The high school wrestling season is only part of his year-round routine that includes national and international competitions and constant work with former Gophers wrestler and Olympic medalist Brandon Paulson at Pinnacle Wrestling in Shoreview. To meet Mitchell is to hope his story will someday be told to an international audience watching him compete in the Summer Olympics.

"We thought we had lost him," said his mother, Nina.

When Mitchell was 6 weeks old, Nina put him in his car seat on a bitterly cold day. When she heard him gasping, she found he had turned blue.

The McKees were living in Clear Lake, so the ambulance didn't arrive quickly. A neighbor who was a firefighter provided an oxygen mask.

The ambulance rushed the family to St. Cloud. Mitchell was bleeding from the nose and mouth. "They said, 'It's serious, we've got to baptize him now,' " Nina said. "Then they brought the helicopter up and said, 'Don't expect much when we get down there.' "

The helicopter delivered Mitchell to Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. When Nina and husband Steve arrived, they were warned, and prepped. Mitchell was on an oscillator, which forced air into his lungs, which had collapsed and filled with blood.

"They lost him three times in the helicopter on the way down," Nina said. "He was on a bed, wearing just a diaper, and his body was jumping up and down. They said he would be there for months if he pulled through at all.

"Seventeen days later, he was out. The nurses and the pulmonary doctor couldn't believe it."

Mitchell bears scars on his sides and neck from the tubes that were used to resuscitate him, but scars are nothing to wrestlers. They mean more to his parents.

"They said there was no way a normal kid, without such a strong will, would have pulled through," Nina said.

Nina, Steve, Mitchell and Paulson were arranged around the desk in Paulson's cluttered office at Pinnacle. Mitchell isn't happy about the IOC's decision, but, in his persistently calm voice, says, "I guess my new goal would be to win an NCAA championship."

Paulson is more agitated.

"It was disbelief at first," he said. "It was like, 'This is not real, it's a rumor.' Then you think, 'Holy crap,' or worse. I was in a daze. I have three kids I have to get ready for school and I was on my phone all morning, out of it.

"It was shock, then anger, then, 'OK, what are we going to do to keep wrestling alive?' "

Paulson remembers watching the televised Opening Ceremony at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and seeing his destiny. He qualified for the '96 Olympics in Atlanta, and his voice changes when he describes the relief and joy he felt when he won his semifinal match, ensuring a medal that rewarded thousands of hours of sweat and pain.

He finished with a silver in the Greco-Roman discipline, and kept working in the sport he loves. Now the McKees drive an hour round trip after Mitchell's high school practices so he can work with Paulson. The McKee's younger son, Patrick, has followed Mitchell's lead, so the family continues to travel the country, seeking the best competition.

The family still laughs about the time they took Mitchell to the Dixie Nationals in Atlanta, rented a car to drive to another tournament in West Virginia, then drove back to Atlanta to fly home.

"That's the crazy stuff we do," Steve said. "But a lot of times we can do it as a family, and this is what we choose to do as a family. It's a lot of fun. Mitchell and Patrick are very close, and they're good kids."

Mitchell lives a disciplined, goal-oriented life. He wears a T-shirt that reads: "Don't follow your dreams; chase them." Wrestling became his vehicle for achievement early on.

When Mitchell was in kindergarten, he invited a friend to play one weekend. The kid was busy. He had entered a wrestling tournament.

"He came over after that, and he had a wrestling trophy," Mitchell said. "That Tuesday, I started doing youth practices. I went to the Becker youth tournament that Saturday, and I just kept going."

He would like his destination to be the 2020 Games. Even the IOC should be smart enough to avoid angering the international fraternity of wrestlers.

"What you see around this country, and around the world, is that we're fighters," Paulson said. "That's what we do. We will fight 'til the end."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Buffalo 17 FINAL
New England 9
Cleveland 10 FINAL
Baltimore 20
Dallas 37 4th Qtr 2:00
Washington 17
Indianapolis 27 FINAL
Tennessee 10
Jacksonville 17 4th Qtr 1:20
Houston 23
San Diego 7 FINAL
Kansas City 19
NY Jets 37 4th Qtr 0:31
Miami 24
Chicago 9 FINAL
Minnesota 13
Philadelphia 34 4th Qtr 3:18
NY Giants 26
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Tampa Bay 20
Carolina 3:25 PM
Detroit 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 3:25 PM
Arizona 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 3:25 PM
Cincinnati 7:30 PM
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA 1/4/15 2:00 AM
TBA 1/4/15 2:00 AM
Detroit 3:30 PM
Houston 6:00 PM
San Antonio
Oklahoma City 6:30 PM
New York 8:00 PM
Toronto 8:00 PM
Phoenix 8:30 PM
LA Lakers
Toronto 4:00 PM
Vancouver 7:00 PM
Tulane 57 FINAL
St Johns 82
Central Conn St 48 FINAL
Connecticut 81
Iona 81 FINAL
Drexel 62
Concordia (MI) 42 FINAL
Eastern Mich 100
Harvard 46 FINAL
Arizona State 56
Longwood 64 FINAL
Ball State 69
Sacred Heart 76 FINAL
Brown 79
Colgate 64 FINAL
Columbia 69
MD-Eastern Shore 78 FINAL
Duquesne 69
UNC Greensboro 50 FINAL
East Carolina 71
Marist 64 FINAL
Elon 69
Lafayette 76
Cincinnati Christian 58 FINAL
Liberty 78
Morgan State 53 FINAL
Marquette 81
Campbell 56 FINAL
Samford 65
Bucknell 71 FINAL
Siena 73
Long Beach State 67 FINAL
Syracuse 85
Coppin State 80 FINAL
Evansville 85
UMKC 62 1st OT 1:34
Indiana State 57
Hofstra 81 2nd Half 3:26
Long Island 55
Coast Guard 26 2nd Half 16:41
Army 69
Thomas (GA) 29 2nd Half
High Point 39
Texas Southern 21 2nd Half 19:36
Kansas State 23
Rutgers 29 2nd Half 19:28
Monmouth 33
NC Wesleyan 25 2nd Half 17:48
NC A&T 33
South Dakota St 30 2nd Half 17:54
Northern Iowa 44
Central Penn College 27 2nd Half
Radford 63
Bowling Green 35 2nd Half 18:00
South Florida 38
Harris-Stowe 31 2nd Half
SE Missouri St 36
Robert Morris-IL 31 2nd Half 16:43
SIU Edwardsville 62
Northland College 37 2nd Half 15:53
North Dakota St 51
Milwaukee 26 2nd Half 16:55
South Dakota 41
Northwestern St 30 1st Half 3:58
Arkansas 39
Saint Peters 0 1st Half 14:53
Cornell 4
St Katherine 8 1st Half 17:35
Fresno State 4
Haskell 0 1st Half 19:28
Oral Roberts 0
Wake Forest 4 1st Half 14:58
Richmond 7
Fla Gulf Coast 3:00 PM
SD Christian 0 1st Half 18:15
Northern Ariz 2
Judson 3:30 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Ill-Chicago 4:00 PM
Loyola-Maryland 4:00 PM
Miss Valley St 4:00 PM
Lehigh 4:00 PM
Delaware State 4:00 PM
Belmont 5:00 PM
Howard 5:00 PM
NW Christian 5:00 PM
UC Davis 5:00 PM
Washington St
Abilene Christian 5:00 PM
Grand Canyon
UCLA 5:30 PM
Stony Brook 7:00 PM
Buffalo 7:00 PM
CS-Bakersfield 9:00 PM
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Toledo 1/4/15 8:00 PM
Arkansas State
Drexel 71 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 54
Holy Cross 63 FINAL
Norfolk State 62
East Carolina 62 FINAL
South Florida 69
(10) Oregon State 63 FINAL
(8) Tennessee 74
Providence 51 FINAL
Boston College 79
Florida A&M 47 FINAL
Miami-Florida 83
Oakland 69 FINAL
Central Michigan 74
Chattanooga 59 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 49
Fairfield 59 FINAL
La Salle 73
St Francis-PA 59 FINAL
Pittsburgh 97
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Longwood 63
New Hampshire 58 FINAL
Manhattan 54
Bucknell 68 FINAL
Binghamton 57
Northeastern 70 FINAL
Albany 67
George Mason 70 FINAL
Towson 72
Tulane 60 FINAL
Cincinnati 50
North Florida 51 FINAL
Florida 63
(14) Georgia 51 FINAL
Seton Hall 70
Tennessee St 75 FINAL
(12) Kentucky 87
American Univ 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 77
Massachusetts 78 FINAL
Boston U 57
Quinnipiac 69 FINAL
Saint Josephs 67
Lafayette 49 FINAL
Saint Peters 34
Northwestern 61 FINAL
(20) Michigan State 57
Duquesne 82 FINAL
Lehigh 75
George Washington 72 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 49
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Indiana 51
(24) Green Bay 66 FINAL
Dayton 72
Milwaukee 70 2nd Half 0:46
IUPU-Ft Wayne 75
Richmond 59 2nd Half 0:11
William & Mary 56
Western Mich 41 2nd Half 9:41
Stony Brook 43
Davidson 61 2nd Half 5:11
Virginia 44
UNC Greensboro 21 1st Half 1:55
LSU 34
Denver 29 2nd Half 15:31
North Texas 32
VA Commonwealth 34 2nd Half 20:00
Coppin State 30
Huston-Tillotson 12 2nd Half 17:06
Houston Baptist 49
Lamar 33 2nd Half
Rice 41
Miss Valley St 25 2nd Half 17:46
Alabama 38
Saint Louis 39 2nd Half 16:46
Eastern Illinois 23
Middle Tennessee 40 2nd Half 20:00
Tenn Tech 32
Penn State 24 2nd Half
(23) Iowa 41
Purdue 29 2nd Half 18:23
Illinois 22
DePaul 54 2nd Half
Illinois State 33
Sam Houston St 13 2nd Half
Wichita State 36
South Dakota 24 1st Half 4:23
TX-San Antonio 21
Colgate 3:00 PM
Fla Gulf Coast 3:00 PM
(4) Notre Dame 0 1st Half 20:00
Coll of Charleston 0 1st Half 20:00
SC State 0
Alcorn State 2 1st Half 18:44
Texas-El Paso 2
Dartmouth 0 1st Half 20:00
Niagara 0
Michigan 0 1st Half 20:00
Wisconsin 0
Yale 3:30 PM
(25) Arizona State
UC Santa Barbara 4:00 PM
(16) Stanford
Long Island 4:00 PM
Long Beach St
Jackson State 4:00 PM
Eureka 4:30 PM
Western Ill
Cornell 5:00 PM
(22) Syracuse
Temple 7:30 PM


question of the day

Poll: Grade the Vikings offense

Weekly Question





Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters