Mineola wrestler Keesee deals with tragedy, other grapplers on way to success

Mineola wrestler Keesee deals with tragedy, other grapplers on way to success
Mineola senior Joe Keesee (right) took fifth place at the county wrestling tournament last year, and looks to qualify for states for first time this year. Photo courtesy: The Keesee Family.

 The car rides weren’t especially loud. No heart-to-heart talks, or rollicking story-telling.
But so much about father and son relationships is just being together, and Chris and Joe Keesee were together an awful lot.

Chris was a gregarious fellow, known to almost all in Mineola thanks to his warm smile and pleasant nature.

He was a father to four boys, and the third of those was Joe, a soccer star as a kid who discovered a passion for wrestling when he approached high school.

Chris’ wife, Graceann, would often be driving Joe’s younger brother, Michael to soccer tournaments on weekends, so Chris was chauffeuring Joe to his wrestling meets and tournaments.

It was a lot of hours hanging in the car, just father and son.

“We were always close, and he was always so proud of me and everything I did,” Joe said. “He loved how hard I worked in my sports, and would get really into it while watching. He was friends with everybody, and was always fun to be around.”

Chris Keesee was stricken with esophageal cancer a few years ago and passed away last April 28. Joe had just finished his junior year of wrestling, reaching the county tournament and placing fifth at 145 pounds.

As last winter progressed, as his dad’s health worsened, Joe found inspiration.

“I didn’t know all the details of what was going on, the severity of it, but I knew he wasn’t feeling well,” Joe said. “I just knew I wanted to try to make it to the state tournament, for him. He got to see me at counties, but I didn’t make states.”

The loss of his dad has motivated Keesee to do even better in his senior year, and the 2023-24 sports campaign for him has already been incredible.

A starting defender on the Mustangs boys soccer team, Keesee was a key piece to the squad that won the county and Long Island championships for the first time since 2005.

Now back in wrestling mode, he’s gone 22-2 so far this season as Keesee dreams of finally making it to states.

“It meant a lot to me that we went so far (in soccer), because it was my last year playing,” Keesee said. “But a couple of years ago wrestling became my biggest passion.”

That switch started to happen after ninth grade, as Keesee saw the potential in wrestling.

His coach at Mineola, Dan Guido, saw how athletic and tough his new charge was and thought he could have a future in the sport. Keesee also knew that older brother Matt Keesee was a three-time county champion

“He’s got a little bit of everything: smarts, tough, very competitive and a great wrestling IQ,” Guido said. “There may be still kids who are stronger than him, but he beats most of them.”

In 10th grade Keesee gave up club soccer and started training for wrestling most of the year; he now wrestles in club season at Savage Academy in Huntington.

The individual aspect of the sport began appealing to him more and more, as the idea that “all the pressure and all the glory and blame is on me if I don’t do well. No teammates to blame if you don’t win.”

After beginning his career at 112 pounds, Keesee now grapples at 160, a weight at which he said he’s much more comfortable than last year’s 145.

“I feel faster and better technically than a lot of other guys at this class,” Keesee said.

As a sophomore Keesee went 0-2 at counties, making him motivated to improve as a junior.

He was one match away last February from fighting for a spot at states, but winning the fifth-place battle gave him confidence for a state berth this year (because of changes in the state rules in 2023-24, Long Island wrestlers must reach the title bout of their weight class to qualify for states.)

“You could see how much it meant to him, trying to do well for his Dad,” Guido said. “Chris was such a good guy, and seeing him (get worse) was hard for Joe and the family.”:

Keesee has gotten so good that Guido has taken him and a few other Mineola teammates to other schools for practice sometimes, so they can get a better battle.

While he competes and keeps dreaming of his ultimate goal, Keesee said he plans to attend Nassau Community College next year before embarking on a career in construction.

Like father, like son.

“I just need to wrestle smart, and not rush things when I’m out there,” Keesee said. “Just slow things down, and use what I know to help me win.”

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