PADECKY: Klee won’t be a secret for long

P.J. Klee works out with Josh Berkovic of San Francisco at El Nino Gym in San Francisco on May 9.  Klee will wrestle for Cardinal Newman next year.  Photo credit: Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat

P.J. Klee works out with Josh Berkovic of San Francisco at El
Nino Gym in San Francisco on May 9. Klee will wrestle for Cardinal Newman next year.
Photo credit: Crista
Jeremiason / The Press Democrat


Curious, that would be the word, the buzz right now on Cardinal Newman’s campus. Let’s see P.J. Klee. Let’s see him wrestle. Let’s see what a three-time high school All-American looks like. The moves, the quickness, the agility, the pure athletic ability, whatever it is that places Klee a cut above, curious minds want to see it. And being that those curious minds are teenage minds, they don’t want to wait.

Well, they will. Klee enrolled at Newman in January, transferring from Blair Academy, a New Jersey boarding school. Having completed almost half of his high school season there, Klee was prohibited by the California Interscholastic Federation from competing for two high schools in the same year. He will wrestle for Newman next year as a senior. It will be worth the wait, that was the sense, once Newman wrestling coach Francisco Manriquez finished speaking of Klee.

“P.J. is wrestling at a college level while he’s still in high school,” said Manriquez, a Ukiah native who wrestled for UC Davis, a two-year starter there at 125 and 133 pounds. “It’s almost unfair. He’s just at a different level, a higher level than most athletes. I can’t compare him to anyone I have ever seen.”
But how did Sonoma County — where everyone knows everyone — not know Klee?

His parents, Paul and Katie, moved to Rohnert Park 20 years ago. P.J. Klee went to Cross and Crown Lutheran School in Rohnert Park through the fifth grade, then to what was Creekside Middle School. His brother, Michael, is a sophomore at Newman. His sister, Megan, is in the seventh grade at St. Eugene’s.

Paul and Katie run a family electrical company. In fact, the Klee family home is just three doors down from the house Kayla Aggio grew up in. Aggio is the former Rancho Cotate star now on a wrestling scholarship at Oklahoma City College. Aggio and Klee are friends.

So, after all that, why wasn’t Klee a known athletic commodity around here? Three-time high school All-Americans typically attract attention, if not a swarm of it. By now, in our little corner of the world, we should know Klee’s favorite color and what he likes for breakfast. So what happened?

Klee hasn’t been around. Literally.

Klee spent his freshman and sophomore years of high school at Blair Academy, the pre-eminent high school wrestling program in the country. Blair has won 33 consecutive National Prep Championship tournaments. Blair has produced 16 wrestlers who became NCAA champions, and 51 D1 NCAA All-Americans.

Why would Klee spend eight months each year 3,000 miles away from his family? Because he loved wrestling? Yes. Exactly.

“In fifth grade I found out about Blair Academy, and I told my parents I wanted to go there for high school,” said Klee, who is 5-foot-9. “My mother said if I made straight A’s and continued to improve as a wrestler I could go there.”

It would be my pleasure, said Klee. While he was wrestling at Cross and Crown as a 70-pounder, he won what is called the Triple Crown for his age and weight group — a national champion in all three of wrestling’s disciplines — folkstyle, freestyle and Greco-Roman. It wasn’t as if Klee just found wrestling as a 10-year-old. He had been wrestling since he was 5. His attraction to the sport now is the same as it was then.

“I love team sports, but I like wrestling because it’s all on you,” said Blair, 17. “You can’t point fingers. You can’t blame anyone except yourself.”

An independence is contained in that statement, an attitude that makes it easier to see how Klee could tolerate living away from his family for two-thirds of the year. Klee wanted to absorb every aspect and every coachable moment in wrestling. As a freshman, he won the 119-pound weight class at the National High School Coaches Association tournament in Virginia Beach, Va. As a sophomore Klee won at 132 at the NHSCA tournament. Just this spring, competing for the local Redbirds Wrestling Club team, Klee finished fourth at 145. All three finishes qualified him as a high school All-American.

Two days a week Klee travels to San Francisco to train under Travis Lee, a four-time NCAA All-American at Cornell. The other five days he works out with Manriquez.

“My parents made tremendous sacrifices for me and I really appreciate it,” said Klee, who left Blair Academy over Christmas break when Blair’s legendary coach, Jeff Buxton, departed. “A lot of people don’t understand fully what it means to me to do this.”

Living away from your family for eight months provides a strong hint of how important wrestling is to him. Klee wears his ambitions like a badge and his ambitions extend beyond high school — an NCAA All-American, member of the USA national team, a world champion and an Olympic gold medalist if the sport is still in the Olympics.

Manriquez found out Klee was returning to California before Christmas. Did he feel like Christmas came early for him?
“You could say that,” said Manriquez, a physical education teacher at Newman.

Manriquez could say a lot of things. He immediately became a better coach. Newman immediately became a better wrestling team. Klee immediately aroused curiosity. Newman students were told immediately they would have to wait to see what the fuss is all about. Teenagers having to wait? For months? Texting, instant messaging, not helping? OMG, it’ll be like the old days, when people had to be, um, patient. How gross.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or

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