Jesse West! I won’t lie, I am straight-up proud to put this one together. This is the first of 2 articles coming from Jesse. The second one will be an “Inside The Rivalry” article and will include his take on his rivalry with Josh Budke from Cedar Falls.
The thing that makes me most proud of this one is the fact of that when he wrestled in Iowa the one year he did, a large percentage of fans actively rooted against him because they didn’t approve of the fact that he was a transfer from Kansas. This was back when this wasn’t a common thing. These guys were treated 10X worse back then. I feel that time had probably healed things with most who didn’t approve of him wrestling and our state and he has been kind enough to give us a second chance at getting to know Jesse West, the person. Because to be honest, the state of Iowa more or less collectively refused to get to know him when he was here. I was 14 at the time and I was certainly caught up in the villainization of him, which I regret now, for now I’ve met him and interacted with him a few times and he’s one of the nicest, down to earth and coolest people I’ve met in a long time. PLUS! He’s a fan of the Cardinals, KC Chiefs AND the Stone Temple Pilots…In which, In obsessed with all 3 of those as is the rest of my family.
Here was an essay I wrote in the Intro to the Inside The Rivalry article:
A rather big storyline of the 1997 Iowa HS State Wrestling Tournament was a highly anticipated 3A 130 lb. finals match with Iowa City High Senior, Jesse West and Cedar Falls Senior, Josh Budke.. Budke was not only the returning state champion, but he had won it the previous two years coming into that tournament. However, West was also a returning state champion and had beaten Budke 3 times over the course of the regular season. This provoked collective and mostly shared feelings of anger amongst wrestling fans across the state of Iowa, for West wasn’t Iowa’s returning state champ….he was a transfer from Kansas. These days, people don’t get as worked up as they used to about guys who moved into the state or transferred there, but back in 1997, the act of someone transferring for wrestling seemed like such an uncommon, foreign idea that the transfers weren’t treated like the rest of the Iowan wrestlers by the general spectators, but treated like…well, foreigners. With Jesse West, some people were so dramatic about it that it was like we were being invaded by the evil Russian from Rocky 4, Ivan Drago and it gave a lot of people who weren’t used to it a feeling of, “why did THAT GUY move to OUR state to compete in OUR sport! He must be booed!!!” People got ugly with it. Transfers received very cold unwelcomes back then and in retrospect, it wasn’t fair to them. Not to sound holier than thou, for I have been guilty of being overly unwelcoming of transfers myself until about 5-6 years ago, when something that changed my mind about it.
What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?
Flint Hills Wrestling Club, Emporia Kids Wrestling Club, East Kansas Freestyle/Greco, Emporia High School, Iowa City High School, Iowa State University, University of Missouri
What year did you graduate?
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
My uncle wrestled and had some decent success, I think my dad was a state placer also.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
I won more than I lost, 4 or 5 x youth state champ, some great rivalries and kids (Robbie Rogers, Nathan Lawrenz, Jason Blanding, Trent Stefec, Robbie wrestled for Brown, and Nate went to UNI
What was your record in HS?
142 – 5
How did you place at state every year?
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
There always seemed to be someone telling me I wasn’t good enough or couldn’t achieve something, so I learned how to focus on what was in front of me, and I usually had a chip on my shoulder.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
Aggressive – I like being aggressive, attacking, constant pressure. I like scoring points!
How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?
In high school there were only 3 kids who beat me. Beau Vest, who beat me twice my freshman year both times the score was 3-2, I beat him convincingly in the state finals that year. He had not lost a high school match until then. The freshman from Dodge City who beat me in the finals my junior year, I beat him 17-0 a month before the state tournament. I am pretty sure I teched him in some freestyle events as well. And then there was Josh Budke. I beat Josh 3 times in the regular season, I think I beat him twice in the preseason, he beat me once in the state finals.
Who was your most influential coach?
My most influential coaches would be Brad Smith and Bobby Douglas. Both were phenomenal.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
Eric Akin changed my life when I was 14. I could have listed him as a coach, but it was different.
Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?
Jeff McGinness – Brad Smith did tell me that I was the best HS wrestler he ever coached.
When you decided to make the move to Iowa your senior year, how did you perceive the wrestling atmosphere compared to Kansas?
Iowa is the mecca of wrestling. The fans in Iowa are awesome! They are passionate about wrestling and knowledgeable. I bet you can’t throw a rock and not hit a national champ.
Was the Iowa fan reception to you positive, negative or mixed?
I was the most hated man in the state of Iowa for a year! Iowa City was awesome, and very welcoming. All of this made for a cool, unique senior year.
How awesome was it wrestling for Brad Smith the year you did?
Pretty F’n Awesome! I love Brad Smith. He is the epitome of cool, treats you like you’re his best friend, would do anything he could (twice) to help someone. One of the best pure athletes to walk the earth.
Are there any wrestlers you’ve seen, past or present that you would compare your style to?
I tried to emulate and imitate many, but I doubt anyone was copying me. I watch a lot of kids today that I wish I could wrestle like.
Who are some Iowa HS wrestling guys from your era that you have an immense amount of respect for?
David Kjeldgaard – he was a beast… Budke … Justin Holdgrafer, Cory Connell…
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
Yanni, Fix, Spencer Lee, all the senior level freestyle athletes.
What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
Metallica, Notorious B.I.G, Tracy Chapman, Dave Mathews, Dr. Dre, Stone Temple Pilots,
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
I was really pissed after I lost my junior year in the finals. Yeah, that one stung.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
Nothing. I made a lot of mistakes, a lot of bad choices, but that is how you learn and get better. Take your lumps and your lessons and keep moving forward.
What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment was being named the freshman with the hardest work ethic at Iowa State U. There were a lot of good freshman that year.
My best memory is getting home from the state tournament after my freshman year, and all of my non wrestling friends were at my house with a lot of toilet paper, and streamers!
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?
Stephen Abas, Teague Moore, Josh Budke, Silverstein, Jeremy Hunter.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
I loved freestyle. If I have one regret it is not finding Freestyle sooner.
How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
The technical level is through the roof right now! But these kids have guys from my day training them! There are only a few Brad Smith’s out there, but I think the level of coaching, training, all of it has gotten better.
Did you wrestle after high school?
Yes. Iowa State.
What other sports did you play?
What are your favorite sports teams?
St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Nationals, K.C. Chiefs, Chelsea FC
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
Hiking, Gardening, Climbing, Boating
How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?
I think the sport is still giving to me!!
What do you do now?
Are you still involved with wrestling?
Yes. I run a youth club, a Freestyle/Greco club, and I Officiate Freestyle/Greco
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
Work Harder… the answer is always WORK HARDER!!!
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
Tony Brown, Paul Myers, Erik Akin, Brad Smith, CT Campbell, Jamie Sauder, so many people… I could probably start listing names and it would take up 10 pages.