We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?

In junior high, Andrew “Drew” Esquivel was so far ahead of the academic curve, and schoolwork came so easily to him, that he knew every concept his math teacher would explain well before the start of any lesson.

He didn’t mind that he already understood, that his aptitude was beyond the subject matter at hand, according to his dad, Andy Esquivel of Healdsburg.

“He listened because he loved math so much,” his father said.

It was not the same with wrestling.

Wrestling asked more of Esquivel. Which is, perhaps, what drew him to the sport and what made him love it. He identified as a wrestler.

“Schoolwork came easy to him,” Andy Esquivel said. “But the wrestling part did not come easy to him. He loved the hard work, the discipline. He loved his teammates.”

An Eagle Scout and a straight-A student at Healdsburg High, Esquivel went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall of 2013 on a full scholarship courtesy of the James Family Foundation. A computer science major, he was also accepted at Cornell, Princeton and Stanford.

And despite the rigors of college, Esquivel wanted to continue his wrestling career.

“It started out pretty tough for him,” MIT head coach Tom Layte said. “I think he started 0-13 his freshman year. We were concerned that we were going to lose him.”

But they didn’t lose Esquivel — instead, they saw him work his way into the national tournament. He made it to the tournament all three years at MIT and was one match away from medaling and becoming an All-American his junior year. Those optional practices in January? You know, the month when the average high in Cambridge is 36 degrees and snowfall usually reaches 13 inches? Those workouts were not optional for Esquivel.

“Drew lived three or four miles from campus,” Layte said. “He’d run or bike to the workout, then go to school, then practice. He just had a great overall attitude. He just enjoyed life. He enjoyed wrestling.”

The summer after his freshman year he had an internship in Barcelona, but he managed to find a wrestling club and worked out there.

He was voted team captain as a sophomore and again as a junior. He was named the team’s most valuable wrestler. For his senior year, he was gunning for All-American status, perhaps the one wrestling accolade that still eluded him.

Then, last July, on the eve of his senior year, Esquivel was struck and killed by a 28-year-old off-duty New York City police officer. Nicholas Batka was fired from the department and has been charged with manslaughter and driving under the influence. Esquivel was in New York for a summer internship.

Four hundred people came to a vigil in the Healdsburg Plaza last July. Former teachers came. His Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brothers came. His wrestling coaches came. His teammates came.

“Every day he came into the room he was just happy,” Layte said. “He got along very well with everybody.”

Esquivel knew how hard wrestling could be on a person, so he reached out to all of his teammates, encouraging them to keep after it, to stick with it.

“That’s the way Drew was — he tried to make people feel as welcome as possible,” Layte said.

Where others didn’t, Esquivel made the effort.

“He was a great leader, both vocally and by example,” he said.

Those who loved Esquivel continue to find ways to honor him.

A college scholarship fund has been established by his family and the Rotary Club of Healdsburg Sunrise. And later this month, the Healdsburg Wrestling Club, of which Andy Esquivel is president, and coaches from Esquivel’s MIT squad will host the first annual MIT-HWC Drew Esquivel Memorial Wrestling Camp.

The coaches will teach technique and work on drills, but the camp will also feature lectures. Sports psychologist and author Dr. Steven Ungerleider will give a talk, as will Gustavo Flores, senior director of enrollment management at Sonoma State.

“I think a wrestling camp was the one way to give back directly to wrestlers and the wrestling community and teach young kids. I think it’s an immediate impact for wrestling,” said Scott Weidemier, head coach with both the wrestling club and Healdsburg High.

Weidemier said Esquivel identified himself as a wrestler and was drawn to the discipline and the rigor. But Weidemier laughed when thinking about everything that was on Esquivel’s plate as a Hound.

“He had all the tools; he was a very good athlete,” Weidemier said. “But part of what hurt Drew a little bit was exactly what made him so special. He didn’t put as much time in the offseason as we would have hoped; he was gone every summer on some college prep thing or a science trip in Europe.

“Wrestling was important to him, but he wanted to go to college,” Weidemier said. “He was so intelligent, into drama, into different science things, volunteering for activity after activity. He was so busy — it wasn’t like some kids, they are at the river, they are hanging out, they are just too tired. That wasn’t him. You never took it as a slight or he was being in any way irresponsible, he was just so busy, and into so many things.”

But as with all things, Esquivel set goals for himself.

“He was very deliberate,” Andy Esquivel said. “Once he set his mind on something, he was going to get it done.”

Esquivel’s high school goal was to medal at the North Coast Section tournament.

At Healdsburg High, section medalists are honored with a picture on the wrestling room wall.

“That was kind of a big deal to get your picture up there,” Weidemier said. “We all knew he wanted to be there.”

Wrestling at 120 pounds, Esquivel, the Sonoma County League champion, finished sixth in the NCS tournament — good enough for a medal.

“He had the biggest smile in the world,” Weidemier said. “He had an incredible senior year.”

Esquivel wanted his picture on the wall so he would be remembered as a wrestler. His family, his friends, his coaches and his teammates remember him as that and so much more.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com.

Show Comment