Jacob Butenhoff is all about giving kids a chance to dream. If he can use wrestling to further those dreams, all the better.
Butenhoff will get a chance to mold young athletes into champions on and off the mat after recently being named the head wrestling coach at Walla Walla High school.
“We believe that wrestling is an important vessel to teach kids the important things in life and provide opportunities to kids,” Butenhoff said of his staff and their shared philosophy. “The more doors we can open and get kids to be more successful, the better. One of the beautiful things about wrestling is that gender and race don’t matter. That’s what I love about that. We want to open doors for everyone, not a specific demographic.”
Buttenhoff wrestled at Walla Walla and graduated in 2006. He was a two-time district champion, a regional champion and went to state his junior and senior years.
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“I was good on this side of the state,” he said, when asked how he did. “I was a mediocre wrestler at best. I had a strong work ethic and that came through for me in the third period at times.”
He went on to wrestle for the University of Great Falls (Montana), where lessons were learned.
“That was a rude awakening for me in college,” he said. “I was behind a guy that was a runner-up at nationals and he beat up on me every day. That was a huge wake up call to me. Guys were coming in as three-time state champions. It was fun to learn. Getting knocked down and getting back up.”
Butenhoff spent four years as an assistant at Pasco High School before moving over to Walla Walla this past season.
“I was blessed with the time I was able to spend at Pasco and learn from Jay Covington,” Butenhoff said. “I learned a ton form him — the passion for the kids and the sport. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to teach me.”
And it’s that passion and dedication he wants to share with the youth in Walla Walla.
“We want to focus on youth programs,” Butenhoff said. “Each elementary school in Walla Walla has its own wrestling program and the high school kids go and work with them. It’s a chance to get kids in our community involved in something positive. The perception is that wrestling is not for you. I believe if a kid knows how to wrestle and is around it, they will learn what it is about. The blood, sweat and tears that go into it. Life is hard and this helps them understand that.
“Growing up in Walla Walla, we didn’t have the same culture that they do in the Tri-Cities. We want to bring that here.”
Butenhoff, 29, is a special education teacher in the Walla Walla school district. He works with students 18 to 21 years old who have a variety of disabilities ranging from autism to down syndrome. His students are out in the community at work sites learning skills and learning to be on their own.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” Butenhoff said. “You have to make sure they are well greased.”
Butehoff and his wife Jennifer, who is a special education language arts teacher at Walla Walla, have a 2-month-old daughter, Harper.
“I am thankful for her and her support,” Butenhoff said of his wife. “Since we have been together, she has been a diehard wrestling fan. She wants to know how each kid is doing, not how the team is doing. We have some great kids in our program. There isn’t a bad apple in the bunch. All we can do is continue to support their goals.”