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A TV personality returns to a humble start

KARE 11 weekend meteorologist Jerrid Sebesta told students Wednesday at Montevideo and Yellow Medicine East schools his formula for success: hard work, excellence, passion and what he calls the “X” factor, or ability to create value by solving a desire, want or problem. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

MONTEVIDEO -- Jerrid Sebesta still holds the record for blocking the most shots in a basketball game while playing for the Montevideo Thunder Hawks.

He came home on Wednesday for the first time in several years and had his photograph taken by the trophy case where his record is displayed, but not before telling students at his alma mater that they can go anywhere they want in life too.

And, the popular weekend meteorologist at KARE 11 television in the Twin Cities told them how.

"It's not because I'm extra special,'' said Sebesta. "It's because I busted my butt and strive for excellence and do the right thing and really try to create value in what I do.''

Sebesta, 34, is a 1997 graduate of the Montevideo High School and a 1999 graduate of Ridgewater College in Willmar, where he also played basketball. He earned his bachelor's degree in atmospheric science at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. It was during a summer internship at a small television station in Duluth that he realized TV was what he loved.

"I just kind of stumbled into it,'' he said.

Now he can't believe how fortunate he is. "And the funny thing is I grew up in a small town and this is so bizarre that I'm actually here speaking to basically who I was 15, 20 years ago. I was in your shoes living in the same exact town,'' he told the students.

Actually, he was living in the Northdale Trailer Park on Benson Road in Montevideo. He grew up in a single-parent household headed by his mother, Eileen Ulferts. There wasn't a lot of money, and he described his home life as emotionally very unstable. His older brother by 10 years is an alcoholic and homeless, he said.

He attributes his trailer home upbringing to his fascination with the weather. "The weather freaked me out,'' he said. He felt vulnerable to severe weather in a trailer.

But the humble start didn't hold him back, and the basketball record in the trophy case tells some of that story. The 6-foot, 6-inch tall Sebesta doesn't believe he was the best basketball player on the court, but he overcame his limitations with hard work, he told the students.

He played basketball at UND as a walk-on. Every day, he practiced against Chad Mustard, who went on to play football in the NFL with the Browns, Panthers and Broncos. "For a year and a half, I got my buck kicked. Every tooth in the front of my mouth is chipped,'' said Sebesta.

He made up his mind he was going to outwork any player he was up against, and the walk-on player earned a full scholarship and important role on the team in his senior year.

It's no different in his professional career. Sebesta emphasized that there are other people in television far smarter than he. His niche is based on the formula for success he shared with the students: Work hard, be excellent and passionate, and offer what he called the X-factor. Offer value to your work by solving a desire, want or a problem.

In his case, the value comes from not only knowing the weather, but being able to tell a story in a fun and compelling manner.

His relaxed, comfortable manner before the camera is not necessarily natural.

After college, Sebesta started his television career in Sioux Falls, S.D., one of the country's smallest TV markets. He landed a job in the country's 13th largest market, Phoenix, Ariz., and said he was both scared and reserved on the screen.

One night he convinced himself he could be as loose and entertaining as another announcer whose demeanor on the air he envied, and it worked.

He's never turned back, despite some setbacks. He almost landed his job at KARE 11 in 2005, but was beat out by a shorter-statured guy named Sven Sundgaard.

Sebesta joined KARE 11 in January 2010 when he took over weekend duties from Sundgaard, who is now on the morning crew.

"I'm working harder than I've ever worked,'' Sebesta said, but added that he's having more fun than ever.

Sebesta and his wife, Emily, are parents to two children.

He is one of two Montevideo graduates who are prominent in Twin Cities television. John Lauritsen is a 1996 Montevideo High School graduate and Emmy-winning journalist with WCCO television.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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