Tony West: A shooting star at 17

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Local News

October 15, 2019 - 10:35 AM

Tony Joe West made the cover of Skeet Shooting Review in March 1977 at age 17. The teenager skyrocketed to international fame as a champion skeet shooter. West graduated from Baldwin City High School in 1978. His mother, Mary Louise West Henry, now age 90, resides in Yates Center.

About the same time Tony West  became a skilled skeet shooter, he developed an interest in cars. According to his grandmother, Mary Louise West Henry of Yates Center, ?His grandfather kept him in cars.?

He had two Ford Mustangs, a 1966 convertible, a 1969 fastback coupe, and even an older Corvette. 

Tony and a friend would tinker around with the cars with intentions of restoring them or customizing them, but because of his limited time availability and limited money, nothing much ever came of it. One project involved a 1970 Pontiac GTO with the goal of making it into a drag racer, but that never went anywhere either. When it came to spending money, Tony had to make a choice: car parts or shotgun shells. The ammunition won out every time.  After all, money was tight.

The year 1977 was another banner year for Tony. It began with a feature article on Tony in the March issue of Skeet Shooting Review.  He was only 17, but he was having the time of his life.

Later that year he won at the Great Eastern Open for the second consecutive year. Following that was the World Championship Shoot in Savannah, Georgia. In a field of 774 competitors, West was the collegiate champion, having graduated from the junior class of shooters. At the same time, the Western Open finals were going on. Shooters began missing almost immediately, and after only a few rounds, Tony and Ricky Pope were left in competition. Pope eventually won with Tony as the runner-up. Altogether, it was a successful trip to Savannah. 

In 1978, Tony graduated from Baldwin City High School.

About the same time his parents received a lucrative offer on their Wellsville property and they decided to sell and relocate to Richmond, which provided them easier access to Interstate 35 as well as Tony?s aging grandparents. The commute was longer for Joe, but retirement was on his mind, and it was still an easy drive. More importantly, the family was still living in a small, rural community with the atmosphere that they loved so much. 

But gone was Tony?s private skeet range, his high school friends, car buddies, and other familiar things made Wellsville home.  

Tony tried to convince himself that none of that really mattered, because soon he would be going away to college. 

Tony had decided on Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, in part because it was where Robert Paxton and Todd Bender, two of his fellow competitive shooters, were enrolled. 

Trinity was a favorite destination for competitive-level skeet shooters because the national headquarters of the National Skeet Shooters Association is in San Antonio.  

At the same time, his dad, Joe, became aware of a job opening there with the FAA, making it a lateral career move. Wanting to be near their son, Joe and wife, Mary, decided to move there as well. After all, they had been in Richmond only a short time and they hadn?t really ?settled in.?

?We all went down there (San Antonio) and enrolled Tony in Trinity and following that, Joe and I went to see about moving his job there as well,? Mary said. ?That week, we spent a considerable amount of time with the FAA folks in preparation for the transfer. When we finished, Joe and I headed home for Kansas. When we arrived home, we found Tony there waiting for us! Tony had quickly decided that college wasn?t for him and he beat us home. Tony never did care much for school. All he wanted to do was shoot skeet in competition.?

Tony West won this silver punch bowl at the 1976 Great Eastern Championship shoot in Stratford, Conn.

Bender, Tony?s friend and fellow junior shooter, recalled: ?Tony attended Trinity University where Robert Paxton and I graduated, but he only lasted a week. I guess he wasn?t cut out for college.?   

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