Huskies grooming heavyweight Lemke-Bell for success
Oak Park-River Forest's Adam Lemke-Bell gets his leg caught by Montini's Edgar Ruano in the 285 lb. weight class on Jan. 23, 2013 in Oak Park . | Rob Hart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 6:46AM
Oak Park-River Forest head wrestling coach Mike Powell carries a lot of talented wrestlers on his team.
The Huskies had 11 winners at the Class 3A York Regional on Saturday and there’s only 14 weight classes.
Yet Powell couldn’t stop talking about one wrestler who finished third: sophomore heavyweight Adam Lemke-Bell.
“His work ethic and dedication is what makes him stand out,” Powell said. “Wrestling is a sport where work, dedication and the mental things mean as much as your physical gifts.”
Lemke-Bell beat Glenbard West’s Matt Larsen 3-1 in the final match of the day at York. The entire crowd was focused on the 285-pound third-place match and teammates and coaches went wild when Lemke-Bell scored a third-period takedown to help secure the win and a trip to this weekend’s Maine East Sectional.
“His third-place match speaks to (his work ethic),” Powell said. “He beat a good wrestler with a much better record (24-17) that had beaten him earlier this year. Adam has the least amount of wins on the team and everyone in that gym was screaming for Adam to win. And that shows how his teammates feel about Adam.”
Lemke-Bell’s record of 18-24 does not sound impressive. But it’s just his second year of wrestling and the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder is competing in the 285-pound weight class with wrestlers who are almost always bigger.
“Sometimes it’s hard to move someone around that weighs nearly 300 pounds,” Lemke-Bell said. “I have to rely on technique and try and outlast them because I’m not going to push them around.”
“He’s still kind of gangly but he’s still growing,” Powell said. “We think he’ll be a captain in two years. We really think he’ll be a top heavyweight in the state. He gets better every single week, every match.”
Lemke-Bell was born in Chicago and grew up on the South Side before moving to Forest Park and eventually Oak Park. Neither parent is especially tall. His dad, Tony Bell, is 5-11 and his mom, Sally Lemke, stands 5-7.
Lemke-Bell, whose dad is black and his mom white, embraces his heritage.
“I don’t know what’s the first thing that comes to people’s mind when they see me but if anyone asks what’s my race I tell them I’m bi-racial,” said Lemke-Bell. “But Oak Park is pretty diverse and a tolerant place. If I lived somewhere else maybe it would be different. I like having two last names. I love both sides of my family and I get to represent them.”
Lemke-Bell works hard in the classroom as well, carrying a 3.5 grade-point average.
“He’s a really smart kid and he takes an intelligent look at whatever he does,” Powell said. “He’s one of those kids that can be very grateful for what he has and he doesn’t look at what can be better. I think that really bogs down teenagers nowadays. That absolutely comes from his parents who are wonderful people.”
Lemke-Bell’s favorite sport growing up was baseball and that’s what he thought he’d play in high school but assistant wrestling coach Mike Boyd saw him walking the halls at school and immediately recruited him.
“I met Coach Powell then and started going to practice and I couldn’t stop going,” Lemke-Bell said. “It’s been a real growing experience. I’ve never really been part of an organized sport like this. Baseball is one thing but wrestling on a team that has the caliber of being nationally ranked is something else. I’ve learned to believe in something bigger than myself.”
With several heavyweights at the varsity level last year, Lemke-Bell spent the season on the freshman team. But he came into this campaign and earned a spot on varsity. Now Lemke-Bell is heading to sectionals.
“Part of it is getting experience but the prospect of me qualifying for state this year is real,” he said. “I’m going to wrestle hard and stick to my technique. I feel like I’ve come a real long way. Wrestling has definitely been the most powerful experience of my life.”
Regardless of what happens this weekend, Lemke-Bell knows he has a bright future and he’s thankful for everything he has.
“By my senior year I hope to be a state champion,” he said. “It won’t be easy but in a program like Oak Park you improve so much and I think it’s a realistic goal. I think I’m probably the luckiest kid in the entire state. No where in the country will you get a better deal than having Mike Powell as your coach.”