The Wells High School wrestling team won its second straight state championship but what the Warriors are most proud of is their work with former Wells wrestler Nate Smith’s son, Spencer, who is fighting Sanfilippo Syndrome. Wells has raised money all season every time one of the wrestlers gets a win. They are expecting the total to be close to $10,000. Spencer is pictured sitting with Wells' Jonathan Brown watching the Class B state meet at Wells High School. Amy Murphy Photography

The Wells High School wrestling team won its second straight state championship but what the Warriors are most proud of is their work with former Wells wrestler Nate Smith’s son, Spencer, who is fighting Sanfilippo Syndrome. Wells has raised money all season every time one of the wrestlers gets a win. They are expecting the total to be close to $10,000. Spencer is pictured sitting with Wells’ Jonathan Brown watching the Class B state meet at Wells High School. Amy Murphy Photography

WELLS — “Once a wrestler, always a wrestler.”

Spencer and Jonathan Brown smiling for a photo during the tournament. Amy Murphy Photography

Spencer and Jonathan Brown smiling for a photo during the tournament. Amy Murphy Photography

It’s a motto that Wells senior Ryan Norton and the rest of the Warriors whole-heartedly believe in.

Norton spoke that brief but important phrase at last weekend’s New England Qualifier. His season and high school career had just ended, but there was no doubt in his mind that he would be part of the Warriors wrestling family for the rest of his life.

It became clear to the current Wells wrestlers the kind of second family they are a part of before the 2017 state tournament. Head coach Scott Lewia addressed the team just before the Class B meet last February and told them the story of former Wells wrestler Nate Smith and his son Spencer.

Spencer, who is now 3 years old, has a rare neurological disease known as Sanfilippo Syndrome. The disease, which currently has no known cure, is often referred to as “Childhood Alzheimers” because of the way it causes cognitive regression, including loss of skills such as hearing, talking and walking.

“We knew that he was a son of a former wrestler, and coach always emphasizes how the team is like a family,” Norton said. “So we really wanted to help out their family. It means a lot because not only are we helping out this family, but we know that coach has our back — once a wrestler, always a wrestler.”

Lewia wanted his team to know of Spencer’s story before they stepped onto the mat at last year’s state championships.

“I just felt that it kind of gives you a perspective of what things aren’t really that important that you think are important at that time,” said Lewia. “I told them that you might not understand it until your older and you have kids of your own but it’s a pretty devastating thing.”

The longtime coach also wanted to stress to his team that their membership to the Wells wrestling family doesn’t expire when they graduate.

“Nathan was part of our wrestling family and I just wanted them to know that no matter if it’s 10 days, 10 weeks, 10 months, we are going to be there and have your back,” Lewia said.

That message struck a chord with the current Warriors.

“Definitely the whole family that goes along with Wells wrestling,” said senior Drew Peters on what the Warriors’ partnership with Spencer has taught him. “It was the day before states (last season), we were all nervous, we knew we had a shot (at a state title), and coach Lewia sat us down and said, ‘I know you guys have a big day tomorrow but you need to think of things that can happen.’ He brought up the whole Spencer story and told us all about it. It really gave us motivation and drive to go out and win for him.”

That extra motivation helped the Warriors capture last year’s Class B state championship. A year later they were able to win another team gold — this time inside their home gym with Spencer and his family there to celebrate with them.

“It was definitely awesome because (we were) warming up and we have the shirts with him on it, and all the sudden there’s this little kid running around looking so happy,” said Peters, who felt even more of a responsibility to leave it all on the mat with Spencer there. “In the back of your mind you think, ‘I feel like I have to do this for this kid because he’ll never have the opportunity that I have to do high school athletics.’”

Lewia was happy to host the Class B state meet this season, but it made it even more special to have Spencer and his family there.

“It was awesome, just awesome. He kind of made a connection with one of my JV kids (Jonathan Brown) which was pretty funny. He went and sat on his lap, and I got a picture of them sitting facing away and (Brown) has the shirt on that says ‘Win for Spencer.’ It was just really good,” said Lewia.

Spencer even got to take part in a time-honored tradition in wrestling — rolling up the mats after a successful day.

“It was awesome … it felt good and he was happy the entire time. He was even helping roll up the mats,” said Norton, who couldn’t help but smile when thinking back to that moment.

The Warriors not only wore warm-up shirts in solidarity with Spencer, they also raised money every time they got a win on the mat this season and it will all go to help find a cure for Sanfilippo.

“The fundraiser this year was fun just getting sponsors. I get $10.75 per win and I got 33 wins this year so it was awesome to know after your win that you’re raising money for a good cause,” Norton said.

The Warriors are hoping the money they have raised — which is expected to be close to $10,000 — will help kids like Spencer, but they are also happy to simply increase awareness for Sanfilippo.

“I think it helps bring awareness to something that people don’t really hear about, and it means a lot to the whole team because we really are like a family,” said Norton.

In the end it all comes down to family for the Wells Warriors — whether you are still wearing a singlet or haven’t been on the mat in decades.

“Coach Lewia always told us he’d be there for us and it just kind of shows that a former Wells wrestler has something wrong with not even him, but his kid and coach Lewia and the team have tried to help them out as much as we can,” said Peters. “(It’s great) just knowing that down the road, no matter what happens, I will always have somebody there for me.”

Sports Editor Pat McDonald can be reached at [email protected] or at 282-1535 ext. 322. Follow the Journal Tribune Sports Department on Twitter @JournalTsports.


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