Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

HHS wrestling veteran stays active in sport

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Mike Vest referees a wrestling match. Vest administers the Class A message board and rankings for the Illinois Matmen, a site that tracks wrestling statistics./Courtesy photo

Lifetime Harvard resident Mike Vest loves wrestling.

“I wasn’t very good, but I have loved the sport since I was little,” said Vest, who wrestled at Harvard Junior High School and Harvard High School. “I have been following high school wrestling for a long time. It’s the love I have for it that keeps me going with it today.”

Since graduating from HHS in 1999, Vest has worked as a police dispatcher for 12 years and part time with the fire department for 11 years. That work hasn’t kept him away from his passion for wrestling, and one of the ways he maintains this connection is through the Illinois Matmen.

Illinois Matmen was started in 1998 and covers Illinois wrestling, from kids clubs to the international level. When it started, Matmen was just a message board website. Since then, it has developed into 10 different message boards and has rankings for all classes. Freelance writers cover college teams in the area.

Vest took over the Class A message board for the Matmen in 2001 and started ranking wrestlers in Class A in 2002. He relies on feedback from wrestlers, coaches, parents and fans to help with the rankings.

“I tell people on the message board that I am just one guy who does all the Class A rankings in the entire state,” Vest said. “I rely heavily on the feedback I get throughout the state.

“It’s the input I get from the coaches — not only coach [Tim] Haak but other coaches as well. I have great relationships with coaches all over the state. I get great feedback from people all over the state.”

Matmen does not charge for access to their message boards or rankings, unlike most wrestling websites, such as the Predictamen in Iowa. The Matmen have a handful of advertisers who support them and allow them to keep the website going.

“That’s the great thing about the Matmen – it’s free to everyone,” Vest said.

Being involved with the Matmen has made other opportunities available to Vest.

“I work for IHSA TV doing play-by-play for the wrestling state finals for individual and dual teams for three years,” Vest said. “Prior to that, the Matmen produced a state final DVD. I did the Class A play-by-play with another Harvard graduate, Thad Booke.”

Vest also satisfies his passion for wrestling by refereeing 20 to 30 wrestling matches across Northern Illinois and announcing seven to eight Hornet matches every season.

He and his wife Tiffany have two sons and a daughter, Kaden, 7, Riley, 5, and Khloe, 2. Both of the boys seem to have caught the passion for wrestling, with Kaden entering his third year with the Harvard Youth Wrestling and Riley entering his second. “The first year I encouraged Kaden to do it and he loved it,” Vest said. “Riley went to all the practices and wanted to join. They are both pretty excited to be doing it.”

For information on the Illinois Matmen, visit http://www.illinoismatmen.com.

Mike Vest’s thoughts on:

This year’s Hornet wrestling team: “Harvard’s going to have a very solid team this year. They return the whole lineup with the exception of Dillon Cowan. I look for it to be a very successful season for the Hornets. They are ranked fourth in state. I do get a lot of flack for that because everybody knows I’m from Harvard. They are always ranked pretty high, and it’s not because I do the rankings. It’s because they have earned that top-five, top-ten ranking in state year in and year out. I always have referees tell me that Harvard never has a chance to rebuild, they just reload.”

Harvard head wrestling coach Tim Haak: “I’ve known Tim for almost 20 years now.  He’s the greatest leader a young person could have as an athlete and a person. He knows the insides and outsides of the sports he’s been involved in. He definitely knows how to get the most of all of his athletes.” 

Best wrestler in Hornet history – “This is a tough one. Harvard, historically, has had great individuals over the past 50 years. In my lifetime of Harvard wrestling, if I had to pick just one, I’d say Sergio Figueroa. He was a four-time state qualifier, state champ and state runner-up. He was a junior high-state champ in sixth grade. He was just a tremendous wrestler for Harvard. You could also argue about Harvard’s only two-time state champ, Steve Nulle, or Dan Haeflinger. Of course, these are just in my lifetime. You could go all the way back to Dave Gratz [70s/80s era] who was undefeated going into state — a heavy favorite to win it — and breaks his nose and can’t compete.”

Best high school wrestler you have ever seen from McHenry County – “Again, a tough one. I’m going to stick with my lifetime of wrestling, so I can’t go back to the 80s, 70s and so on, so I’m going to pick Jordan Blanton of Richmond. Jordan was a three-time state champ [two in Class A and one in Class 2A] and a state runner-up.  He had only one loss in his high school career. He is now a nationally ranked wrestler for the fighting Illini. I had the privilege to see Jordan become an All-American two years ago at the NCAA finals in Nebraska. He is such a great athlete and a great person off the mat as well!”