North's Hassenger, Grayson's West stepping down as head coaches

The paths of Steve Hassenger and Steve West first crossed at Shiloh High School in the fall of 1993.

The duo built the Generals wrestling program into one of top teams in the county and the state from the mid- to late 90s.

The two went their separate ways at the turn of the decade - Hassenger to North Gwinnett, West to Grayson.

After more than 750 combined dual victories and 62 years coaching - including 36 years in Gwinnett County - the two have stepped down as head wrestling coaches.

"In my gut I just knew it was the time," Hassenger said. "I'm very lucky that I could decide that."

Hassenger turned a struggling North wrestling program into a consistent top 15 team. West built the Grayson program from scratch, leading them to an eighth-place finish last season.

"I hate to see it," Collins Hill coach Cliff Ramos said. "They're both great guys and have put a lot into the sport."

Both will remain teachers at their schools. Hassenger plans to pursue a specialist degree as he continues to teach AP history classes. West would like to teach and coach part time for the next three to four years as he moves out of the education field.

West has run a painting business for nearly 30 hears, painting the interior of homes. He also has a chauffeur license and would like to own his own limo service one day.

West has coached for 30 years, including 22 years as a head coach. He coached at Shiloh (1984-2001) and Grayson (2002-08), compiling a 315-140-2 dual record with 15 state champions.

"I've had some great assistants along the way - Gary Glenn, Jerry Stewart, Steve Hassenger and Jay Hargis - have all helped me out a lot over the years," said West, a 1974 state champion at Riverview Gardens High in St. Louis who wrestled collegiately at Central Missouri State University, where he was a two-time NCAA qualifier.

West coached two years in Missouri before coming to Georgia and taking over a young Shiloh program in 1984. West built the team from scratch and by 1988 had the school's first state champion. Over the next seven years under West, the Generals had seven state champions, most notably three-time state champion Chad Marley.

"All of my state champions stand out," West said. "I think that's pinnacle for any wrestler and the pinnacle for coaches is to coach a state champion."

West, a two-time county coach of the year, led Shiloh to county titles in 1994 and 1996, the latter being the last Gwinnett crown that hasn't gone to Parkview or Collins Hill in the past 12 years.

West stepped down as Shiloh's head coach from 1997 to 2000 and was an assistant under Hassenger. He was the head coach one last time at Shiloh during the 2000-01 season and then left to help start the Grayson program.

In his seven years as the Rams' head coach, West had 14 state placers, including state champions James Boatright and Nathan Swanson last season.

"The thing that I have enjoyed the most in my 30-year career would be coaching my son Tony (a two-time state placer) for four years," West said. "We had a very special coach-athlete, father-son relationship. We became very close during this time, something I am very thankful for."

Hassenger can relate to West. While at Shiloh, Hassenger coached his son Kurt, who was a three-time state qualifier.

"It was the hardest four years as a coach," Hassenger said. "You stress for any kid, but when it's your kid it's hard. But it's also very rewarding."

Hassenger has coached for 32 years, including 15 years in Gwinnett County. During his career he compiled a 445-132-2 dual record with 16 state champions.

"I'm going to miss the relationships. For 40 years wrestling has been a part of my life as a wrestler and a coach," Hassenger said. "I've built a lot of relationships with coaches, wrestlers, parents, fans and that's what I'm going to miss the most."

Hassenger told North Gwinnett administrators at the beginning of the school year he was going to step down at the end of the season. He told the team a week before the area meet.

Hassenger plans to spend more time with his wife and two grown children while also pursuing a specialist degree. He still plans to coach ninth-grade football.

"We all love Coach Hassenger," senior Travis Sheehy said. "He's a great guy. He's spent a lot of time away from his family to work with us. I respect his decision to want to be with his family."

Hassenger wrestled collegiately at Olivet College, a Division III power in Michigan in the '70s and '80s, where he was a three-year varsity letterman.

After spending 16 years as a coach in Michigan, Hassenger came to Georgia in 1992 and was the wrestling coach at Perry.

The next season, he became an assistant under West at Shiloh. He spent three years as an assistant before becoming the Generals' head coach.

"The seven years he and I coached together were as fun in any period I had coaching," Hassenger said. "It didn't matter who was head coach. To be honest it was a dual head coach spot."

Hassenger coached four state champions, including three-time winner Dustin Kawa, and three state runner-ups as Shiloh's head coach.

Hassenger took over a North program in 2001 that hadn't had a state finalist since 1994. In his tenure, it has had three finalists and five other state placers, most notably Sheehy, who won more than 225 career matches.

Even with all of the success Hassenger accomplished as a coach, his biggest honor was seeing some of his former wrestlers become coaches.

"The greatest accomplishment of my career is seeing so many of my wrestlers involved in the sport today," Hassenger said. "Guys like Larry (Rogers), Dustin (Kawa) and Kurt (Hassenger) are giving back to the sport and coaching, which is something I'm very proud of."