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Remember The Wrestler: Stephen Stonebraker, Sigourney

Let me tell you a little story about a savage by the name of Stonebraker. A Sigourney savage named Stonebraker. A savage is defined as “a brutal or vicious person.” A “stonebraker” undeniably gives the vibe of a person who is brutal or vicious enough to break stones with their bare hands, so this story is certainly going to epitomize anything and everything that’s “tough, badass and manly.” I mean, how on Earth can a savage named Stonebraker be anything short of 100% studly and dominant?  Spoiler alert, he lives up to his literal name/label… just maybe not in the way that you may be expecting. The wrestling story of Stephen Stonebraker is a pretty tragic one, but he makes up for it by being a stone-cold, hard-working, intellectual savage in the world of wrestling media.

A couple months ago, I wrote an RTW article on a guy named Brett Wheelan and made the comment that sometimes there are wrestlers out there who love wrestling more than the sport seems to love them back.  The love for it seems unrequited due to how much they put into it and eternally support it despite the fact that they received nothing, but heartbreak, terrible fortune and a Rulon Gardner-sized void in their souls in return.  Nothing fits this description more than Stephen Stonebraker.

 

In wrestling media, there are several different outlets, all with their own niches and all of them produce what seems to be a smorgasbord of wrestling enthusiasts who write about wrestling from the way they see it. A lotta passion and a lotta creativity involved, but there are also noticeable biases and egos that affect the content. Some people can’t control their egos from influencing their biases…some won’t budge from their biases, for it will be an assault on their egos. Everyone is prone to this to some level in their own ways. There seems to be social cliques, rivals, common terminologies, pacts, etc. It gets to be pretty catty, really. And I am one of the worst offenders. If there were a popularity contest held amongst all wrestling media, I am sure I would be ranked towards the bottom in terms of how well-liked I am amongst most of my wrestling media peers, this considering that any of them even know who I am, which they probably don’t.  For one, I am squirrelly and have never been able to prove myself “above” throwing shade at other media people, just for the fun of it sometimes.The most antisocial thing about me is that with an exception of a couple sources, I really don’t read or watch very much content from other sources. I’ve probably been to Flowrestling like 10 times in my entire life. Really, the only people I am familiar with are the IAwrestle guys, The Predicament guys, McCool, etc. I grew up reading Sesker and Levins. They are my favorites to this day. And with that said, I heard of Stephen Stonebraker for the first time probably 10 years later than I should have, for the man has been generating quality content for years now. After I learned who he was, I almost felt guilty afterwards for learning about him in the manner that I did. I learned about him in the comment section of one of my own articles…how’s that for humbling? Another wrestling media guy posting nice things on articles written by a guy who has a long history of neglecting and being a jerk to other media sources… Stephen knows everyone behind every outlet and the work that all of them produce…I am guessing he reads their material out of respect for them and/or to keep himself updated on the “do’s and don’ts” of wrestling media while having something to compare his own work to. He knows who the players in the wrestling media game are, undoubtedly…which is a 180 from the likes of me, for I only know the names of Iowa wrestling media people.

So the first time that Stonebraker caught my radar was when I started publishing the Inside The Rivalry stories for The Predicament.  I started those less than two years ago.  After publishing those, I would lurk on facebook and check out how many people liked it, how many commented on it, how many people shared it, how many people liked and commented on the “shared” posts, etc.  I am Curious Josh when it comes to the reception of any article I have ever posted and when someone writes a nice comment, it makes my day.  One of the most eloquently written and heartfelt source of compliments that I had ever received at the time, came from this dude who knew how to spell, knew how to correctly structure sentences, knew wrestling terminology and seemed to have a great grasp of both writing and wrestling. These compliments meant a lot, for I could tell that the source that it was coming from was credible.  Several times, this dude would write these well thought-out comments where he referred to me as a good writer.  I just couldn’t believe that such nice things were being written about me by a guy who seemed to be every bit as passionate about wrestling and writing as I am.  It meant a lot and I finally reached a point where I had to reach out to him and thank him and inquire as to whether or not he was interested in writing about wrestling himself, potentially for this site, which was in the infancy stages at the time.  I didn’t realize that he had been doing just that for several years before those articles of mine were even a thought. Stonebraker had covered wrestling for WIN Magazine, Takedown Wrestling, johnnythompson#1, etc. Since he didn’t write for The Predicament, TrackWrestling or IAwrestle, I hadn’t heard of him, for those are the only other wrestling websites I recall ever venturing to with any regularity at all.  I am glad I was made aware of him, for I have a lot of good material from him to catch up with. And to think that he has chosen to contribute to the site I launched opposed to another outlet that could potentially pay him, when I don’t have anything to offer him at this time, for I have never made a dime covering wrestling and don’t know how to…. It’s humbling. He believes in my mission statement, he is on-board, he is loyal and it has been a source of motivation for me to keep things going. I consider myself to be lucky to have finally met the dude, for he puts his heart, soul and spare time into covering wrestling. He is much more passionate about it than I am. I go days without thinking about wrestling. He lives and breathes it. It’s what he was born to do. I don’t know if I can say the same about anyone else.

 

I hadn’t met Stonebraker in person until about 5-6 weeks ago. He drove to my house in Mepo and talked wrestling with me for several hours.  I don’t know what kind of person he was expecting me to be or what kind of situation I am in with my life, but I doubt that he expected what he was greeted with when he arrived at my house. I don’t think he expected to encounter a man who has fallen on such hard times. To fill you in on my personal life right now, I am going through a divorce, I have my kids (3 daughters) 95% of the time, my house is presentable, but far from luxurious and my roommate is a guy who was sporting a Joe Exotic-esque mullet to match his silly sense of humor and has had some health issues that have resulted in him being on Disability, which is a far cry from the stud football, basketball, baseball and record-holding long jumper that he was for Mepo back in our day. Stonebraker had entered a house of hard times who had fallen on hard times and was there to talk wrestling with us. He may have been anxious prior to meeting, but was at ease the moment he stepped in the door and fully understood how unintimidating we were and how modest our circumstances obviously were. The wrestling talk flowed freely and easily for several hours.  

 

I had been informed of Stonebraker’s personal wrestling career and knew that it haunted him, but the extent didn’t become fully realized until meeting him in person. He loves this sport. He would have given anything to have lived up to the expectations he put upon himself from a young age due to early success. It clearly haunts him and you can see the relentlessness to fill this void in his life by reading what he writes. He writes as if he is training to win state…which in a way, that’s not too far off.  He endured nothing, but consistent heartbreak in the latter half of his career and in his writing, you can tell that he would like to make up for his shortcomings on the mat, by earning the respect he knows he deserves in his writing.  And his shortcomings were a result of just tragic luck…the man broke his back. It ruined the remainder and bulk of his career.  

When you are a wrestling media guy, covering and interviewing all these elite-level wrestlers, it is not uncommon to catch vibes from certain wrestlers of, “who the hell are you, what have you done and why should I stoop off my pedestal to talk to you?” As if they don’t feel you are worthy unless they feel you know wrestling.  I am sure Stephen has caught this vibe several times and it likely killed him every time, for he knows how worthy he is and how well he knows the sport and those who know him, know…it just didn’t happen for him.  And he knows that if the roles were reversed and he had accomplished all that he could have if he hadn’t broken his back, that he would be actively interested in everyone’s wrestling story regardless of what their accomplishments may have been.

 

Get to know Stephen Stonebraker. A savage on the mat, a savage with the pen, a savage with doing and expressing what he feels is right.  And if you feel the urge to ignore his story, keep in mind that he would gladly write a 10 page story chronicling your own career, regardless of whether you won the Olympics or never won a match. He would be a full-fledged savage in proving how worthwhile your own wrestling story is…give this savage the respect and time he deserves and check out what he has to say. You may learn something.

 

 

1. What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?

I started off wrestling for the Little Savage wrestling program in Sigourney, which I was a part of from first grade through sixth grade. In second grade I joined Paul Graham’s Team Osky & was a part of that up through eighth grade. In high school I wrestled for the Sigourney Savages. I was also a part of the Oskaloosa freestyle wrestling club & the Ottumwa freestyle wrestling club.

 

2. What year did you graduate?

2004

 

3. Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

When I was a kid I was the biggest professional wrestling fan on the planet. I wanted to be Hulk Hogan when I grew up. My Dad convinced me that if I wanted to one day do what Hulk Hogan did, that I had to first do amateur wrestling. There’s a lot more to the story than that, including using my mom’s makeup to paint my face like the Ultimate Warrior before going to my first practice…but that’s the short of it.

 

4. Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?

My Dad wrestled in 7th & 8th grades. My Uncle Greg Comer wrestled in high school for Davis County. My Uncle Larry Garrett wrestled for Sigourney during high school. My uncle Chris Tompkins wrestled for Montezuma in high school. Truth is though, that wrestling was not a family thing. Out of all of my cousins, I had one that wrestled for a few years as a pee-wee but most in my family played basketball.

 

5. What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

I was actually fairly good as a pee-wee up through the seventh grade. I qualified for the AAU’s six years in a row and placed twice at them. I took third in 1996 & fourth in 1998. I’d say my greatest rival during my youth years in wrestling was Colfax Mingo’s Michael Bucklin. From fourth grade through sixth grade I think I wrestled him over twenty five times. I’d say he probably won 15 of them and I won 10. Great guy from a great family. Loved the Bucklin’s and the friendship that I had with them during that time.

 

6. What was your record in HS?

65-70 was my high school record. I never kept track of my freestyle record so I have no idea what that was.

 

7. How did you place at state every year?

Never went. Never even came close.

 

8. What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?

I broke my back in eighth grade & missed nearly all of the season because of it. I cracked a lumbar & had to have a 24 hour operation where bone was shaved off of my left hip & fused over my back. I was laid up in bed for three months afterwards. After that I was never the same.

 

9. As a guy who has worked for and is certainly familiar with wrestling media in our nation, what are some of your general thoughts on the state of wrestling’s media coverage? What areas of coverage are done well? What is it lacking?

I think it’s better than it’s ever been. I think Flo & intermat & all of the others do a tremendous job of providing coverage to the fans. I wish sometimes that we weren’t so obsessive over the elite though. I’d love to see some of the other guys get some coverage. We have this romanticized belief that everyone who works hard will get their moment, but more often than we’d ever like to admit, they don’t. Some of the most passionate guys you’ll ever meet in your life were second stringers their entire collegiate careers. God, take a guy like Ben Gillispie that wrestled for Iowa about twenty years ago or so. That guy bleeds black and gold. Loves Hawkeye wrestling & I don’t know if you’ll ever meet a Hawkeye athlete in any sport that wears his letterman jacket with more pride. Guys like him have stories to tell every bit as much as do guys like Cael Sanderson who never lost a match. I think we could stand to showcase them a little more.

I also think that we could do a better job of keeping records. One of the things that has driven me nuts over the years is trying to find out how guys did certain places. I’d love to know that. For example I’d love to see the complete history of the SICL conference. To see a listing of all of the champions over the years. The top three place-winners, ect. I don’t even know if it’d be possible to compile that information. It just doesn’t exist.

Lastly I’ll say that I feel the wrestling media is a little too cutthroat & political for my taste. I’ve had conversations with others about it & how nasty it can sometimes get. One of my greatest friends in amateur wrestling media is Joey Krebs & he and I have had 100’s of conversations regarding the topic. I’ve had conversations with two others whom I won’t mention out of respect. I even had one guy who has been involved in professional wrestling & Hollywood & he told me once in an hour long conversation that amateur wrestling media was the most cutthroat organization he’s ever been a part of.

 

10. At what age did you develop the desire to write? Were you a guy who wanted to spell every word correctly, never make punctuation errors, etc. from a young age?

Very little. I was never one to take spelling & grammar really seriously but even at the tender age of Kindergarten I took the art of telling a good story very seriously. I discovered at a young age I had an ability to entertain, intrigue and draw an audience with the written word. I’m not sure if I have any talents or not, but if I do, creative writing is it.

 

11. How would you describe yourself and how you can make your own unique impact on wrestling media? What do you perceive as your strengths? What skills would you like to develop in time?

I’m not sure honestly. I write stuff & I hope people find it interesting. I hope they enjoy it. I know I sure enjoy researching it & writing about it. I think my passion and love comes across in all that I write. Or at least I’d like to think it does.

 

12. How long have you been intrigued by wrestling history, news, stats, etc.?

Since the beginning. I love history & I love wrestling, so of course I love the history of wrestling. I just love talking the sport. The past, the present, the future…if someone wants to talk wrestling, I’m usually game.

 

13. Who is your favorite all time HS 1A, 2A and 3A wrestlers on the state and national levels, past and current?

I’d say it would have to be kids I knew personally growing up that I looked up to and admired. Sigourney’s Adam Graham was one of my heroes growing up. He was a role model to me & someone that I wanted to be like. He was a great wrestler, a great student, a great person. Adam was liked by everyone. He always had a hot girlfriend. He took me under his wing my freshman year when he was a junior & showed me the ropes as best as he could. He came over every morning & picked me up to go run, lift weights or work on technique. Of all other wrestlers I ever had in my life, Adam had the most positive impact on me.

Ironically enough, I also looked up to Adam’s cousin Brandon Graham that wrestled for Oskaloosa. When I was a little kid, I didn’t even think of Brandon as a human being. To me he was a God. A wrestling God. When I was real little, I was afraid to even approach him. Then when I got a little older I gained the confidence to approach him at practice & he started showing me different moves & setups. My wrestling improved tremendously.

You know over the years I see kids take second place at the state tournament all the time. My mentality is almost always, “Hey, I wish you would’ve won the state title, but keep your head up. You STILL MADE THE FINALS!!!” I never let it get me down or depress me when someone I care about loses in the state finals. In fact, the only time it ever did bug me was when Brandon lost in the state finals his senior season. If anyone deserved to be a state champion it was Brandon. As weird as I am, I even wrote him a letter & mailed it to him telling him that I respected and admired the Hell out of him & that I wished he had won the state title.

There are other high school wrestlers I’ve loved over the years as well, but those two would have to be my favorites.

 

14. Who are your favorite all time Juco, D1, D2, D3, NAIA wrestlers of all time, past and current?

I don’t know if I have one for NJCAA. Most everyone I’ve ever followed in JUCO has gone on to wrestle at a higher level.

D1 – Johnny Thompson of Oklahoma State & Leroy Vega of Minnesota
D2 – Cliff Thompson of Upper Iowa
D3 – Mike Jahn of Cornell
NAIA – Chris Keating of Northwestern

 

15. Which “Gone, Lost and Forgotten” wrestling programs are most heart-wrenching to you

Everyone of them. You got to understand that these wrestlers, these coaches of these dropped programs are all real people, with real feelings & real thoughts. They achieved something for their school. Put on a uniform & wore the colors of their school, only to be told & shown years later that what they did, what they accomplished doesn’t mean anything. It makes me sick to my stomach. I know that my little “Gone, Lost & Forgotten” project isn’t much, but I want the wrestlers & the coaches to know that there is at least somewhere where they can go & see someone remembers them and acknowledges what they did.

 

16. What do you feel is the key to success for a wrestling media outlet that wants to succeed, but in it’s own unique niche?

Communicate with your staff. Always been honest with your staff. Respect your staff. Realize your staff is human & takes being treated fairly and adequately seriously. Telling someone you appreciate them amounts to jack squat if you don’t SHOW them you appreciate them.

As to the “unique niche” you have to be able to communicate your vision in a way that gets those who are helping you with it excited and motivated. We’re all in this because we love the sport of wrestling & we want to share it with our audience.

 

17. Has wrestling media portrayed wrestlers in an accurate light or do you feel there are other dimensions that need to be covered?

I think we could stand to seek out wrestlers who don’t fit the mold. For example another great love of mine in high school was theatre. I’m sure there have been other wrestlers throughout the years that wrestled all four years of high school & went out for the spring play. Yet, we rarely hear about these wrestlers because theatre isn’t something that we think a wrestler ought to be doing. Ridiculous! Theatre, band, art, rodeo, ect….I think people want to know there’s more to us than what we do on the mat! You know my favorite fact about Iowa’s Spencer Lee? The dude loves Pokemon!

 

18. Who are the wrestling media personalities (journalists, analysts, commentators, etc.) that you have looked up to in your time watching and covering wrestling?

Jason Bryant & I have butted heads more than once over the last 18 years. I’m sure we will again. I’m almost positive if you ever got him in private & asked him all of his real feelings about me, not everything would be positive. Nevertheless I think he is one Hell of a journalist & I think he does a great job of covering our sport.

Mike Chapman knows that I think the world of him.

I always really, really enjoyed reading Ron Good’s work when I was growing up.

 

Mark Palmer of intermat is a writer that I read religiously.

 

19. Who was the best guy you ever beat at the youth level and HS level?

When I was little, I actually was good so I beat all sorts of great wrestlers. Have about 10 wins over state champion Michael Bucklin of Colfax Mingo. I beat State champion Travis Branson of Melcher-Dallas. I beat three time state place winner Justin Neuzil of Highland-Riverside every time I ever wrestled him. If I sat down and went through all of the kids I ever beat in pee-wee & junior high wrestling, I’d imagine I beat tons of state qualifiers and place-winners.

As to high school? Well, even though I had a rather disappointing career I still had a handful of highlights. My freshman year I pinned Zac Gayewski of West Burlington. As a senior I beat Troy Smith of Pella 9-6. I believe the Predicament had him ranked 10th at the time. The last match I ever wrestled I pinned Brandon Ball of Columbus who went on to win the state title a couple of years later. I also beat a handful of guys that went on to qualify for districts.

 

20. How would you describe your wrestling style?

Hesitant, timid and scared. I thought way, way, way, way too much on the mat. The best match I ever wrestled in my life was when my assistant wrestling coach Gary Jarmes pulled me aside & said to me my senior year, “Steve, I want you to do something for me that you’ve never done.”

I asked him, “What’s that?”

“Go out and wrestle this kid.” He said back to me. “Just wrestle him.”

Confused I said to him, “I’ve wrestled for you the past nearly four seasons.”
“No you haven’t.” He said back to me. “What you do is you go out on to that mat to either win or to not lose. You’re not doing that this match. You’re just wrestling.”

I promised him I’d go out onto the mat with a clear head and that’s exactly what I did. Won the match 9-6 & found out a short time later that I had just upset a ranked kid. Only time in my high school career I ever did that.

Overall I would hope that my coaches, my opponents & anyone that ever watched me would say that I wrestled with a lot of heart. I once had Belle Plaine’s Steve Carl tell me that while I was far from the most talented kid he ever wrestled, I was one he always hated to face. “You’d give it Hell the whole six minutes.” I’d like to think all of my opponent’s felt that way about me.

 

21. How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?

I never got to wrestle guys as many times as I would have liked to. The only person I ever wrestled multiple times was North Mahaska’s Joel DeVore. He won every match we ever wrestled, but I’d still call what we had a rivalry. Our first two matches were very one sided. He pinned me & then beat me 10-4. Our next match I tossed him in a headlock & it was as if I was Popeye & someone fed me Spinach. He won that match 10-9. Then we met at conference and he beat me 12-11. Our final match at sectionals he beat me 12-9. So no exchanges, I’m 0-5 against him but I’d still call him my high school rival.

 

22. What single wrestling memory of yours rugged at your heart strings the most? Personally and for other wrestlers?

Personally – Getting beat out of sectionals my senior year & finishing in third place. It haunts me every day. I think about it all the time. I have a much different perspective on it now than what I did 16 years ago, but it still hurts.

For Others – There are a lot. You follow people’s careers, you get to know them on a level & you tell yourself that not everyone can be a champion. Not everyone gets have their moment in the sun. You know that & you know you’re supposed to accept that, but you never really do. A wrestler from Hofstra comes to mind as I write this. A great guy that I’ve met a few times in my life that I actually list as the best of all time to never make All American. His name was Noel Thompson (I’m beginning to realize that if someone has the last name Thompson, they’re a favorite of mine). He was one match shy of being an All American three times! His senior year he lost a heartbreaking tiebreaker to not be an AA. It’s hard to watch guys like that. Guys you know work their asses off & you know they’re good guys. You want them to succeed and it breaks your heart when they don’t.

 

23. Do you see wrestling growing or dwindling down in the future? What factors will influence this?

That’s a very difficult question to answer because you can approach it from a variety of different angles. I think from a participation standpoint we need more coaches that want to teach wrestling to any kid that wants to learn it. We need guys like my pee-wee wrestling coach Larry Bird, who welcomed anyone into his wrestling room that wanted to be a wrestler. We need coaches like my high school wrestling Coach Jeff Kirby who took a kid like me & despite my lack of talent & ability still did everything he could in his power to help me succeed. That’s what our sport needs. We don’t need these coaches who look at kids & wish that they’d just quit cause they’re no good. We don’t need these coaches that only care about winning & if you’re not going to win them championships, they don’t want any part of you. The sport doesn’t need that. If a kid wants to be a wrestler, work hard & be a part of the team we have to encourage that. We’ve got to get away from the mentality that winning is everything & some might think that I’m only saying that because I myself wasn’t worth a hoot. That’s ok. I’m cool if they think that. This sport still did tremendous things for my life. I could write a novel on everything positive wrestling ever did for me. I’m sure a lot of other nobodies in the same boat that I’m in feel the same way.

As to an audience? I think we need to keep figuring out ways to appeal to a broader audience. I think some of the rule changes that have made wrestling faster paced and more exciting has helped a ton. I think it’ll only get better.

Attend wrestling duals/tournaments!! ESPECIALLY at the collegiate level! A.D.’s that drop wrestling often state “lack of attendance.” If we get our butts into seats, then they can’t say that can they?

 

24. In Iowa, the HS State wrestling tournament is hands down, the most rabid and attended tournament of all HS sanctioned sports. With that said, why is it that the most appealing HS sport in Iowa has had such a difficult time formulating a professional league where the athletes are paid? The appeal is obviously there and Iowa proves that, so why hasn’t it spread as much as other sports such as basketball? How do we promote wrestling to the point where our athletes are paid?

Wrestling is too regional and too personal of a sport. That’s why it’s never worked and that’s why it won’t work now. I’m an anomaly in wrestling. A kid from Iowa whose favorite wrestler wrestled for Oklahoma State? I’d imagine other than Brandon Mason’s friends & relatives, I’m the only Iowan in the history of collegiate wrestling than can ever claim that. Our sport doesn’t really have fans. We have guys that wrestled that keep up with their teams & other local programs. We have the moms, dads, uncles, aunts, grandparents, friends & girlfriends of wrestlers, but we don’t have people that are fans just to be fans. Football does. Basketball does. Baseball does. Hockey does. Wrestling doesn’t. You could go to an Iowa Hawkeye wrestling dual with 15,000 people and I don’t know if out of those 15,000 you’d find a single person who was simply a wrestling fan. That means they didn’t wrestle themselves & they didn’t get into the sport because of a friend or family member. I’d wager to say that you’d find less than a handful if you found any at all.

We as a wrestling community are to blame for this. We often don’t allow people to just be fans. I’ve observed a group of people watching wrestling before & one will say, “Oh, man! Why’d you do that!?!? Terrible shot.” As soon as he says that he is bombarded with, “What did you ever do in wrestling? How many state titles did you win? How many times have you pinned Cael Sanderson?” If you weren’t a four time Olympic Gold medalist, then shut up, you don’t have a right to an opinion. No other sport is this way. Hell most of the armchair quarterbacks watching football at the bar never stepped on the gridiron, but they’re allowed to have an opinion on a bad throw or a missed block. People like to get excited. They like to cheer & be loud. Allow them to be.

As a guy that was also involved in professional wrestling, I have heard people gripe & moan about how pro wrestling draws audiences and amateur wrestling doesn’t. You know why? It’s pretty simple. Because pro wrestling realized something 90 years ago that amateur wrestling has only recently caught on to. The fans are what it’s all about. The fans. When Pa grabs Billy & Bob and hauls them two hours to come watch a wrestling dual they want to see the best matches. If #1 Vs #2 is going to happen at 141 lbs, that’s what they came to see!! If the coach of #1 ends up sitting #1 because he’s afraid that he might get beat & that might affect seeding, that puts Pa & his two sons in a sour mood. This truly is a have your cake & eat it ordeal. If we want butts in the seats, then we have to deliver what’s on the marquee. That may mean taking risks.

 

25. When you injured your back, did you know it’d be a lingering injury or did you think it’d be temporary?

I had no idea how much of an effect it would have on me. My doctor didn’t want me lifting weights because he thought that the stress of squats, powercleans & deadlifts could possibly cause the two titanium screws in my back to pop out. He told me if that ever happened, that I’d be in a wheel chair the rest of my life. So I didn’t lift weights at all my freshman year & barely lifted weights my sophomore year. My junior year I was finally able to start hitting the weights, but I really had no idea what I was doing. Then to make matters even better I tore my groin & then followed that up by tearing my left bicep. Oh the joys of injury! The spring before my senior year I met and befriended Dave Rempe & Jeremy Towsley. Those two guys showed me how to pump iron. I learned so much during that summer with those two guys teaching me the art of lifting. It made a huge difference. My senior year was my best year. I really think that had I met them earlier in my life & not dealt with all the injuries I did, that my career would’ve turned out better. My technique was solid. My conditioning was phenomenal. I simply had no strength. To give you an idea…. When I graduated high school my max bench press weighing 16 5 lbs was about 170. That’s all I could do & I needed a spotter for that. Today I weigh about 215 lbs & I’ve done as much as 385.

 

26. Who was your most influential coach?

I was very fortunate to have great coaches all throughout my wrestling career. Larry Bird my pee-wee coach taught me the love & passion for the sport. Paul Graham another pee-wee coach taught me confidence & the power of believing in myself. My high school wrestling coach Jeff Kirby is one of the most influential and inspiring people I’ve ever had in my life. I know someday I’m going to publish a novel or do something else great in my life. I can just feel it. My day will come & I know in partial it’ll be because I was fortunate enough to have people like him in my life. I’m not going to give out near enough thank you’s but trust me I mean to. Gary Jarmes, Shawn Williamson, & the list goes on. I had some great coaches.

 

27. Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?

That’s a tough call. I think it’s hard to argue against Jeff McGinness.

 

28. Who are your favorite current wrestlers?

I always root the loudest for the guys that everyone else has given up on. The seniors who have yet to have their success & fans treat them like they never will simply because they haven’t yet. Nothing pleases me more than to watch a senior who everyone has already written off silence his critics. I love that.

 

29. What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?

Believe it or not but I work out best to easy listening. If you ever catch me at the gym you might see me doing military press or hang cleans. I’m intense. Got the growl on my face & I’m pumping heavy iron. You’d think I’m rockin’ to AC/DC or Metallica. Yet if you take my headphones off you’ll hear “Thank you” by Ditto.

 

30. What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

SICL conference consolation finals my senior year. I was wrestling Brett Allison of Tri-County. I had beaten Allison 14-4 in a dual & then was beating him 9-4 when he threw me and pinned me at the Oskaloosa duals. This was the rubber match. I took him down three times that match & in the third period led 7-3. All I had to do was not get pinned. That’s it. Yet, I was angry about being pinned the time before & wanted to see if I couldn’t get the major. I figured I can escape, I can take him down. I can let him up and take him down again. I went for a granby roll, Allison followed me on through put me on my back and pinned me. I love Allison and think he’s a great guy. No ill will towards him at all, but I’d give anything to have that match back.

 

31. If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?

It’s fun to speculate sometimes. As a writer, you can’t help but speculate. I think I’ve come up with at least 1,000 different scenarios of what I’d do different. Of how I wish things had been different for me. How I wish this and wish that. No, I’m not happy about how my wrestling career turned out. There’s no use trying to lie about that, it comes across easily enough when you talk to me. Yet, I think something else great is in store for me down the road. I want to believe that it’ll be in writing. I love to write and write all the time. I write novels, novellas, scripts and screenplays all the time. Not to mention all of the blogging I do & wrestling articles. I honestly believe one day I’ll be the success I work so hard to be. I’m so determined, stubborn & Hell bent. I’m almost certain that had I succeeded in wrestling I wouldn’t be. So in the end, I think things turned out the way they were supposed to.

 

32. What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?

If anyone actually reads this all the way through, I’d say that! Lol

Seriously though it was being named the hardest worker of the year by my coaches and teammates my freshman, junior and senior years of high school.

 

33. Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

All year round. In the spring I attended both Oskaloosa’s and Ottumwa’s freestyle practices & went around to local tournaments. I also attended two wrestling camps every summer & in four years of high school wrestling never once missed a summer practice unless I was attending a wrestling camp.

 

34. How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?

I have no idea. I know there are days when I walk out of the weight room feeling pretty tough. I look at a kid and wonder how I’d do against him. I think it’d take him all of thirty seconds to show me.

 

35. Did you wrestle after high school?

Believe it or not, I actually got offers to. To this day it still surprises the Heck out of me considering that I had a losing record & I had never done anything. Nevertheless Dubuque College sent me a letter requesting that I walked on. Ellsworth Community College & Lawrence did as well. Even when I went to Northwestern College, I was offered a small $1,500 per semester scholarship to wrestle.

Now I did attend a handful of practices but I never officially wrestled. When I graduated high school, I had a long talk with my theatre teacher. I thought at the time that it wasn’t fair to try and do both wrestling & theatre. I thought if I did, I’d be half assing them both. I had given it my all in wrestling & I had never been that great at it. I only did theatre part time & was pretty good at it. I thought maybe if I dedicate myself to theatre the way I did wrestling that I might turn out to be great at it. So that’s why I didn’t wrestle in college.

 

36. What other sports did you play?

I did baseball up till seventh grade. Love the sport & wish I would’ve stayed with it through high school, but I was worried about not being good.

Played football in junior high and my sophomore year.

My real love though was theatre! Love acting!

 

37. What are your favorite sports teams?

I like all sports but the only ones I really pay attention to are college wrestling and college baseball. No real bias for or against any particular teams, just love attending duals, tournaments & games.

 

38. What are your hobbies other than wrestling?

Lifting weights. Reading. Creative writing. Spending time with my dog and cat. Spending time with my girlfriend. Movies & friends.

 

39. How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?

I give back to the sport in the only way I know how to do it. We’re a sport that cares so much about how you did as an individual. What accomplishments do I have? Where are my medals and bracket sheets? I have none. Therefore in most situations I’m not wanted as a coach. I think things may be different now, but that’s what I faced when I did try getting into coaching 10-12 years ago. My talent & my ability, where people trust me is with my writing. So I use it to the best of my ability to help the sport I love.

 

40. How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

I can’t count the ways. It’s given me a great work ethic. If anything I think it’s made me a more empathetic person. Wrestling is one of the loves of my life & like love often does, it breaks your heart. It ruptures your spirit. It’s certainly no fun to go through & it sucks to endure but I think it’s essential to experience. I think it’s a part of growth.

 

41. If you feel that you have a void in your life due to not feeling satisfied with how your own wrestling career ended up, do you feel there is a way to fill it?

There is a void. I fill that through my writing. I write all the time. All sorts of stuff. Like I said earlier, novels, novellas, scripts, short stories, blogs, screenplays. I write all the time. Don’t know if I would, had I succeeded at wrestling. I think had I been a state place-winner like I had wanted to be since I was little, that I would’ve been satisfied with life. That, that would have been good enough for me. Yet, I didn’t and now I seek more. I long for more. Failure at wrestling I think one day will turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.

 

42. Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

Have fun. Believe in yourself. Give it your all & realize whether you end it on top of the heap or at the bottom, you were still a wrestler. 225-0, four time state champion or the guy that never saw varsity once in your career. Either way, you’re a wrestler. Don’t ever let anyone take that away from you.

 

43. Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?

Austin Uphold has been trying to get me to go to one for years. If I ever do, I’ll be a rattlesnake. All I have left is strength. That’s it. I have no wind & my gut is so big that I can’t shoot. My only hope would be to go for a headlock & pray I caught my opponent along the way.

 

44. Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?

I met so many great people in this sport. Made so many friends. People like Ryan Groom, one of my favorite people in wrestling come to mind. I could name 100 more.

 

45. Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.

I can’t believe how long this is! 45 questions! When I write one of these it’s usually 8 to 10 questions! I wonder how many people will read this. Can’t say I blame them if they start it and don’t finish.

I’ll end by saying that I love talking wrestling & I’d love to hear from any of the guys I used to wrestle back in the day. Love to hear how you’re doing and what you’re up to these days. Want to talk any old wrestling memories with me, I’d love to.

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2002 IA HS State Wrestling Podium Pic and Vid and Recap

 

  • Johnny Galloway Jr., Sr., Iowa City High
  • Grant Turner, Sr., Johnston
  • Ryan Hagerty, Sr., Muscatine
  • T. J. Miller, Jr., Cedar Falls
  • Steve Mitchell, Sr., Urbandale
  • Marcus Schneider, Jr., Fort Madison

 

• Johnny Galloway’s 3rd title in this one. Afterwards he was upset that he didn’t get the pin. He’s too hard on himself. He was great.

* Don’t know much about Turner or Mitchell, but they are obviously really good.

* Ryan Hagerty was my main rival my senior year. We split wins that year and went on to be teammates at Loras. One of the toughest and best people I know. Works his ass off for himself and for others.

* TJ Miller is now the HC at Loras and doing a great job.

* Marcus Schneider was the last guy I ever wrestled in my entire career when he was at Coe and I was at Loras. It’s crazy we met there and not HS because he was a local guy for me. Tons of respect for him.

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NOTE: This is not an article that is crowning CJ the GOAT. This is the first article in what will be many to come in which I state the case that guys may have for being the GOAT. There may end up being 100 of these, for an argument can likely be made for that many. Some arguments better than others, but an argument at least. Plenty of guys have had their eye-opening moments. Heck there are a couple of 1xers who have pulled off feats that were out of this world. Dan Davila from Underwood in 2002 may have been the best ever 103 lber I have ever seen…and that’s the only title he won. Plenty of examples like that… and you’ll read all of them.

I get hung up quite a bit on the “Who Is The GOAT Iowa HS Wrestler” topic every time I merely see it referenced. I have gone back and forth with my own opinion and just can’t seem to settle in. I have come to the conclusion that this is a question that has no right or wrong answer and you can make a case for MANY guys who have gone through. And with this series, I plan on doing just that. I plan on starting with the 4 timers and 3 timers and eventually just writing about anyone who has a case, regardless of how much of a stretch it is.

The most common GOAT’s on RTW are Jeff McGinness, Eric Juergens, Mark Schwab, TJ Sebolt and Dave Kjeldgaard. Each of these guys have strong arguments to be made on their behalf. Heck, Juergens and McGinness never lost a match in HS. But something that is more intriguing to me is who hasn’t been mentioned… one of these that sticks out to me is CJ Ettelson from Hudson. I understand that there wasn’t much grey area with him…people either loved him or hated him and I always felt that he was misunderstood. He was animated and this was often perceived as “cocky.” However, if you meet the guy, he goes out of his way to be friendly…in my experience anyways. I can’t help, but wonder if he hasn’t been mentioned yet because of potential misperceptions affecting their recollections of him… For CJ most certainly has a case for being among the greatest ever.

  • CJ won 4 state titles. He didn’t lose a match in Folkstyle after his freshman year.
  • CJ was the first to win 4 titles starting out as a Freshman at a weight heavier than 103.
  • In 2 of the years that CJ won state, he dominated defending state champs. As a Freshman, he majored Senior returning state champ and SEI legend, Joe Honts. This was an incredibly impressive win for anyone, let alone a Freshman. His Senior year, he dominated returning state champion, Kyle Burkle from North Linn in the finals. The other two years, he dominated both Brady Dolan from Indee who made it to the finals twice and who knows what he would have done if he had a Senior season. And in the finals match that tested him the most, he defeated lat drop king, Chad Hutchinson from Mepo by 4-5 points. He had a scare in that match, but fought through it and won… shows how he responded to adversity.
  • Other notable wins: he defeated Christopher Johnson by a large margin. Chris won a few world/national titles in HS and wrestled for the Hawkeyes. He was legit. He also defeated 2X state champion and future D3 national champion, Jacob Naig in a close match.
  • What was notable about CJ was the large margins of victory that he’d have over top-tier competition. His style was like nothing that had ever really been seen at that time or duplicated since… it was just his own and it was foreign to some guys. Sure, there were guys he struggled with more so than others, but he could tech guys out who beat the guys who gave him a 1 point match. There’s really been nothing like him. He had his own style that he perfected via years of trial and error and some guys didn’t know how to make sense of it and it showed.
  • CJ Ettelson, love him or hate him, is one of the most dominant and unique HS wrestlers in IA HS history. His finals matches in his Freshman, Sophomore and Senior seasons…no one has been on top of their games better than CJ was in those. Just listen to the commentary in CJ vs. Burkle.
  • He had a respectable college career.
  • Part 2 coming soon.

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Most of the individuals that are part of the Iowa HS wrestling fan base, past and present have been made fully aware of Brad Smith’s coaching history and accolades on several thousand occasions… that is unless they were born under some sort of giant, prehistoric fossilized basketball. He is one of the best and most decorated HS wrestling coaches not only in Iowa, but I am guessing on a national level. Heck, I would be bold enough to say that he is up there with the best HS coaches across the nation regardless of sport. The man is a legendary coach and if a person has compiled a better HS coaching resume anywhere in anything, then I would like to see it, just so I could read it in amazement.

However, while Brad’s coaching accolades are incredible, this article will primarily be about Brad Smith, the “the wrestler” and a lot of these questions will be directed towards his experiences as a competitor. Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to avoid his coaching career/accolades, for doing so would be going out of my way to try to ignore Brad Smith’s personal pet elephant in the room. You can’t discuss Brad Smith without mentioning his coaching career, for that has become such a large portion of his identity. But the man was an elite-level wrestler before he started on his legendary coaching journey and it will be interesting to see what sort of wrestling journey produced Brad Smith. Not to mention, I want to write something that not only the Iowans would find interesting, but also wrestling fans from his roots in Illinois. And there will be just as many questions pertaining to Brad Smith, the wrestling dad, for that’s how I originally knew him and from the outside looking in as a longtime competitor of one of his sons (Jacob) he happens to be one of the best wrestling dad’s in history on top of his wrestling and coaching career.

So the first time I had ever heard Brad Smith’s name was after I weighed in for AAU State as a 6th grader and picked up my bracket for the weekend and the booklet that had a list of the prior year’s placers… I immediately noticed that I had a guy in the grade below me in my bracket named Jacob Smith who won it the year before. “Maybe he just had an easy bracket,” I thought. Then I saw that the bracket had Brad Nerem in it and that kid gave me one of my best matches of the season the year before. So he was obviously good:

 

 

I showed that to my uncle Kevin and he reacted with, “Jacob Smith, wow I heard about that kid, that’s Brad Smith’s boy. Brad Smith is a legend.” “Brad Smith?” I asked? “Who is that” Kevin said, “Brad won Nationals for the Hawkeyes and was the HC of the Lisbon dynasty and is now the HC at IC High. You know the Light’s, Alber’s, Butteris’s, etc. that I’ve told you stories about? Brad was their coach.”  “Great,” I thought… And to think that the only person I had to worry about was Anthony Bribriesco. “I can’t wait to see this kid wrestle. I like seeing how much kids’ styles remind me of their parents,” Kevin said. I did not share this same sentiment. I would have preferred it if Jacob were one of those jabronie type kids who wore T-shirts and shorts with tennis shoes when they wrestled. Those kids were like having an automatic 10 second pin. And Jacob most certainly wasn’t that.

I had it all mapped out… If I could just stop Anthony Briebriesco, I was gonna see what this Bigshot McHammerpants 5th grader, Jacob Smith was all about in the finals… Well, things didn’t go as planned… and for those of you who read and remember the Jeremiah Butteris article, you may pick up on the fact that this is the 2nd year in a row that I got beat early by the 7th place guy and wrestled all the way back for 3rd. I never had THAT planned out…

 

We did not meet up that weekend, but we did the following year at a freestyle tournament at IC High…the first of what ended up being 4 losses for me at the hands of Jacob Smith. We always had close matches, but he always found some way to win. He was one of two guys in the grade below me that I would consistently lose to. He was such a great wrestler, IMO… One of the grittiest ones I ever faced. Even when I had good days and felt good and wrestled well, he still beat me. To give you a vague idea of what I am talking about, here are 2 of the wall charts he brought home in which I would have brought them home if it weren’t for him! 

This was my only loss going into state that year.

So the first time I wrestled Jacob was at the IC High freestyle tourney my 7th, Jacob’s 6th grade year. We had each other 1st round. When I found this out, I would look over at him to try and see if he looked scared or anything… and I would see Brad. My first impression of Brad was that he appeared very friendly! Actually I am lying about that. He had a very intense demeanor who seemed to have total respect from the wrestlers he coached. He didn’t seem to be interested in any of the opponents. Just had a vibe of “my team is good. They know they are good. I know they are good. I helped make them good. And if any of our opponents to dare cut in line in front of us at the concession stand, we will defend ourselves by beating the smithereens out of them.” At first glance, he reminded me of John Kreese, the sensei of the Cobra Kai karate club that was always giving Danielson a hard time in the movie Karate Kid. And Jacob was a non-blonde Johnny Lawrence.  This was bad. My uncle Kevin was my Mr. Miyagi and he wasn’t there, so this was very bad. I decided to keep my distance from them. I really didn’t want to get beaten up in the hallway by those scary-good Iowa City High guys like Cory Connell, Jacob Smith, Joe Lucci or especially the ultra-intimidating Tony Brown all dressed like skeletons in the same fashion that the Cobra Kai guys beat Danielson up.

So Jacob and I took the mat and away we went. I got off to a fast start on Jacob… I dominated from the whistle and it didn’t seem as if I would have much trouble with him. Just takedowns and basic stuff… I hit a couple fireman’s carries. I wrestled good the first 90% of the match. I could tell he was good…just younger than me. His previously stoic and silent/all-business father was more vocal in the corner than I had anticipated. He was in the corner screaming, “SWEEP THE LEG, JAKIE!!!” Just kidding. He was just really, really into his son’s match and encouraged him the entire time regardless of what the score was. I still couldn’t believe who I was wrestling.  Everything went in my favor until there were about 20 seconds left in the match. I was leading 8-0 and we were on our feet when Jacob threw me in a NASTY headlock.  He got at least 4 points out of that thing. It was deadly. I had to just keep from getting pinned for about 20 seconds and I would win the match by 4-5 points. Easy enough… that is unless I was wrestling against literally any other guy in the entire gym. For one, it was tough enough as it was being on my back and trying not to get pinned by a kid Brad Smith was coaching, but this was his son…and Brad was going nuts. Nothing disrespectful. Just absolutely stoked about what his son had just done, screaming things like, “ATTA BOY, JACOB!!! THAT’S MY BOY!!! SQUEEZE! FINISH IT OFF, JACOB!!” Another thing that was not in my favor was that this took place at IC High…where Brad coached at the time… and there was a guy who appeared to be fresh out of HS that was officiating. If there was a borderline call, Jacob was gonna get it…and I understood that coming in.  When there were about 10 seconds left on the clock, I was still on my back, but far from pinned. I was more than happy to coast this one out. That’s when Brad yelled, “there it is! HE’S PINNED!!! HE’S PINNED!” and in response to that I heard my coach, Dan Cummings kind of snap back, “no he’s not, not even close!” And I knew where my back was… I could tell if I was pinned or not. So was I pinned? Lol… I am sorry Jacob, but you got away with one there… That was the only time I ever wrestled Jacob where there was any questionable call of any kind. He beat me indisputably the other 4 times… This one I did not agree with, though. I wasn’t pinned. But the official called it. Jacob pinned me with 5-10 seconds left in a match that I led by 8 points.  Brad was ecstatic in the corner. So happy for his son. Coach Cummings was not happy… which says a lot considering he’s a pretty laid back guy. He was much more upset than I was. Cummings said a couple words to the official after the match, basically calling him out for the home-cooking, while my attention kind of shifted to Brad greeting Jacob when he walked to him in the corner.  Brad gave Jacob a hug and I couldn’t believe what came out of his mouth. He said, “WAY TO GO, JACOB! THAT WAS A GOOD KID THAT YOU JUST BEAT THERE! YOU DIDN’T GIVE UP!!! WAY TO GO, SON!!! I KNEW YOU COULD DO IT!!!”  “Wowza, he just told Jacob that he beat a good kid… That means Brad Smith knows who I am…that’s wild,” I thought. And when I walked past him he patted my shoulder and said, “hey Swafford, you are a tough kid and wrestled a tough match! Don’t get too upset about that one. Bounce back!”  I don’t think I have ever been more happy after a loss. I couldn’t believe that this legendary Iowa Hawkeye and decorated HS coach knew who I was. It floored me. Coach Cummings gave me a speech about how I shouldn’t feel like I lost the match, for he didn’t feel I was pinned and that I needed to just make sure that I never put myself in a position for calls like that to take place to begin with.  I wasn’t upset, though… If I was considered a formidable opponent by Brad Smith for his son, then well, maybe I was doing some things right? I always struggled in the confidence department…but this helped my confidence…a loss. 

I feel as if Brad Smith is the GOAT. The results speak for themselves, but I was actually in his freestyle club for 2-3 weeks my Freshman or Sophomore year. In that 2-3 weeks, the man had my full attention every practice (which is difficult considering I am a person who is generally easily distracted) and I got to work out with guys like Josh Watts, Cory Connell and Jacob Smith. I was fortunate enough to have several different influential coaches at every level of wrestling that I competed at and I realize that Brad wasn’t my coach for a lengthy duration of time, but I will say that Brad Smith is one of the best coaches I ever had considering the big strides I made in short time.. Fantastic with both the mental and technical components of wrestling and approaches each guy in the manner that they respond to the best. A lot of my improvement under Smith had to do with the practice partners in the room, but an equally important reason for this was his style of coaching worked well with me. I was not the most coachable kid in the world. In fact, I could be straight-up uncoachable at times. It took a pretty patient coach to not have a conniption while coaching me, for I could be a self-destructive headcase on the mat. Brad seemed to know how to handle me in what little time I spent in that room. We left that club because my younger brother didn’t have many guys around his size to practice with, so we joined one that had guys for him to work out with. Not to mention, the style at the other club was more consistent with the type of at atmosphere that Justin responded well to. This upset me. It was the only time in my entire life where I felt like my younger brother’s wrestling career was prioritized above my own, for I was flourishing under Brad Smith. There aren’t many coaches who could have gotten out of me what Brad did in years let alone a mere 2-3 weeks. 

And over the years, something that has impressed me a lot about him is his ability to remember people’s faces and names. When I was at Loras College, a few of my wrestling buddies; Joe Wall and Adam Gottschalk from Hempstead and Joe Kane from Wahlert randomly spotted him at a little bar and grill that we used to frequent. All 4 of us kind of went back and forth as to whether we should approach him and say hello… basically, we doubted that he would remember us. The moment we got within a foot of him, he broke the ice by addressing all 4 of us by name and asking how we were doing. He remembered all 4 of us and was happy to see us. A lot of your elite level wrestlers and coaches would consider the D3 caliber-type wrestlers to be forgettable, but not Brad. I always thought that was so cool of him. So if you see this man around, I’d encourage anyone to introduce themselves… you’ll be amazed at how mutual the respect is and chances are, he won’t forget you.

 

4:50:

 

What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?

In high school I was involved in the Mayor Youth Foundation Wrestling Club where all the elite wrestlers from the Chicago area and the superbs would come to train.  Terry McCann, a former Olympic Champion and NCAA Champ at Iowa ran the club.  Wrestled at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

 

What year did you graduate?

1972

 

Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

We didn’t have youth wrestling back in my day and my first experience in wrestling was in PE class in 7th grade.  Then my PE teacher (Mr Podwell) encouraged me to enter the PE Intramural tournament, which I did.  Didn’t know much technique but I enjoyed the competitiveness of the sport and went on from there.

 

Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?

My former brother-in-law wrestled all through high school in Illinois and my brother Jeff wrestled just his freshmen year. I basically encouraged my brother to give wrestling a try and he was actually pretty natural at it but he was more interested on working on cars. My three sons, Jacob, Cody, and Colton all wrestled for me when I coached at Iowa City High. Jacob was a State finalist his senior year and placed 2 other years, Cody was a 3 time State qualifier and 2 time placewinner, and Colton qualified all 4 years and placed 3rd his Junior year. Enjoyed coaching them and proud of what they accomplished in wrestling.  They were mulit-sport athletes so they never did just focus on wrestling.

 

What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

Started wrestling in 7th grade and my toughest opponent was Joe Amore from Glenbrook during Junior High.  We never wrestled folkstyle but we met 3 or 4 times in freestyle and went back and forth. Joe ended up being a Junior National Freestyle Champion his senior year and went to Iowa the same year I did. He was a weight above me at Iowa.

 

What was your record in HS?

93-14.  Lost 13 of my matches my freshmen year. We would only compete in 26-32 matches a year.

 

How did you place at state every year?

State Champion at 126 in 1971 and State Champion at 132 in 1972. In Illinois during my era there was just one class (no 1A, 2A, 3A)

 

What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?

My sophomore year I was undefeated going into the State qualifying tournament and overlooked my first round opponent and lost 9-8 and couldn’t wrestle back. I remember the match like it was yesterday and it taught me to always respect your opponents. I wrestled the same kid that beat me the next season and won 12-0.

 

How would you describe your wrestling style?

Best position is on my feet and I could get away from anyone.  If I couldn’t turn my opponent on top I would let him go. Felt most comfortable on my feet.

 

How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?

The wrestlers I lost to my freshmen year that I would meet again I would win those matches.  Never lost to the same guy twice.

 

Who was your most influential coach?

My high school coach Tom Porter, and my college assistant coach Dan Gable.

 

Was your team competitive in HS/college?

My freshmen year in high school was the first year John Hersey opened.  By my junior year we won the State Championship the 3rd year the school was open. My senior year we also won.  At Iowa, under head coach the late Gary Kurdelmeier, we won the NCAA both my junior year 1975 and my senior year in 1976.

 

Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?

The wrestler that was a senior when I was a sophomore named Dave Maple who won 2 State titles before me, and of course Dan Gable. Maple went to a different High School but I learned a lot from him when we trained together at the Mayor Youth Foundation.  I went to the NCAA the year that Gable got beat by Larry Owings.  It was held at McGaw Hall in Northwestern in Illinois not far where I lived.  You could hear a pin drop when Gable lost.

 

Do you still have Illinois wrestling pride?

I still follow the Illinois State meet every year but it does not compare to the Iowa State tournament as far as the number of spectators.  Illinois still produces a lot of blue chip wrestlers every year and always do well as a State at Fargo.

 

Compare and contrast the Iowan and Illinoisan wrestling styles of your days…What was the wrestling scene like in Illinois when you were in HS? How did it differ from the Iowa wrestling culture at the time? 

In my opinion I feel Illinois wrestlers like to wrestle on their feet more where Iowa wrestlers were better on the mat.  In high school we actually wrestled Waterloo West when they had really great teams at that time with Coach Bob Siddens. We were at a tournament my senior year in Wisconsin where they were at.  We finished 2nd just a few points behind Waterloo West and I remember they were tough on top!My high school coach really promoted the sport at my high school.  He would get as many people involved with our program which in turn brought a lot of fans to our home meets.  We would pack our gym like we do at Lisbon now.  My first few years at Hersey we had over 100 wrestlers on our team.  We had to run 3 different practices a day.  These days you don’t see those numbers mainly because coaches aren’t promoting the sport like they should.

 

What were some of the powerhouse Illinois HS teams in your day?

Addison Train,East Leyden, DeKalb just to name a few.

 

Were there different philosophies and styles that you were coached with in Illinois that differed from how things are generally done in Iowa?

Not necessarily.  I actually show some of the technique my high school coached showed me that still is effective to this day.

 

Do you feel as if your experience with the wrestling culture in Illinois and Iowa helped make you become a more well-rounded coach? Did any of your experiences or tactics that you learned in Illinois work to your advantage after you transitioned to the Iowa wrestling atmosphere?  

Everything I picked up in high school I would still use in my repertoire at Iowa as a competitor and a coach.  I learned to improve on those techniques to make them more efficient. Obviously I learned so much at Iowa that helped me improve as a wrestler which in turn carried over to my coaching.

 

What was your opinion of Iowa wrestling before moving to Iowa?

I wrestled several Iowa wrestlers when I competed for Team Illinois at exchange meets and Junior Nationals.  Whenever I knew I had an Iowa opponent I felt I was going to be in a dogfight.  A lot of times that turned out to be true.

 

Were the Iowa guys welcoming of you and what you brought to the table from what you learned in wrestling in Illinois, or were most already set in their ways?  

When I first started at Lisbon I was just out of college and I trained them and coached them differently than Coach Baxter did.  It took them a while to adjust to my coaching methods from what they were use to, even though Coach Baxter and I have a lot of the same philosophies. When I came to Iowa to wrestle everyone had their own particular styles. After a few months learning technique from coaches like Gable, Kurdelmeier, and J Robinson we began to adjust our styles some and on the mat you could see similarities.

 

Did you immediately open yourself to Iowa tactics, styles, etc. that you weren’t familiar with before coming to Iowa or did that take some time?

I was well coached in Illinois by Tom Porter and Terry McCann so the adjustment was smooth. The Iowa vs. Illinois style wasn’t all that much different. The basic techniques were pretty much the same but I had my own ties up and set-ups to my leg attacks.

 

Do you still follow the Illinois wrestling scene today?

Yes. I have a few friends that coach in Illinois and I follow their teams some.  I also follow my high school program and as a matter of fact the Head Coach got in contact with me  and I did a 2 hour Zoom meeting with all the Hersey wrestlers. They threw some interesting questions at me.  It was fun.

 

Were you expected by the pundits to become an NCAA Champ before you won it?

Some felt I could have – should have been at least a 2 or 3 time All-American. I was ranked pretty high both my sophomore year and junior year but feel a little short of becoming an All-American.   My junior year I got beat in the blood round.  I felt if I had everything together I would have been a 3 time All-American. My senior year, obviously, I put it all together.

 

When you came to Iowa, what were your first impressions of the average Iowan personality?

Most of them were very personable, really easy to talk to. The Iowa wrestling fans are the best and most of them are very knowledgeable about the sport.

 

What skills did you have that enabled you to reach the pinnacle of NCAA success as a wrestler?

I had natural balance, physically strong, and solid in all positions. I have good mat sense and didn’t get out of position. I do feel I could have worked harder in the off-season.

 

How would you compare and contrast the wrestling scenes at IC High and Lisbon? 

Iowa City High wrestlers were very coachable but have more distractions than wrestlers at smaller schools like Lisbon.

At Lisbon my wrestlers were a lot easier to keep track of and they never had excuses to miss practice.

Obviously I had more depth at Iowa City than at Lisbon. At Lisbon we have always drawn really great crowds including a lot of our student body. It was different at City High.  Decent crowds but not always the fan base you would like to see.  I enjoyed my 21 years at City High and had some great teams there and I had the opportunity to coach several of them to Division 1 programs.

 

Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?

That’s a tough question.   The ones I have coached that have gone on to excel both collegiately and internationally have to be Jeff McGinness and Royce Alger. McGinness was an undefeated 4 timer and Royce won 3.  Both were very dominate during high school as well as college. Both Jeff and Royce won 2 NCAA titles Don’t count out 4 timer Cael Happel of Lisbon.  I’m excited to see his future at University of Northern Iowa.

 

Who is the GOAT HC?

I have so much respect and have worked with Bob Siddens of Waterloo West and Coach Bob Darrah from Dowling. Dan Gable would have Coach Siddens work his wrestling camps and Dan would always put me with Bob. He was so great with the kids. I coached with Coach Darrah several years on his Junior National Coaching Staff. I learned so much from them and would pick their brains.  I wouldn’t have become the coach I am today without them in my life. RIP Coach Siddens and Coach Darrah.

 

Who are your favorite current wrestlers, non-Lisbon?

High School I really like Ben Kueter from Iowa City High who won State this year as a freshmen. He is a scrappy gutsy kid.  College my favorite is Mike Kemmerer. I felt he would have been a National Champ this year.

 

What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?

REO Speedwagon, Beach Boys, David Bowie, and believe it or not Elvis Presley!

 

What was a wrestling experience that made you feel the saddest for the kid you coached?

3 that come to my mind right away all occurred while coaching at City High.  Brent Hamm (who now is the Head Coach at Cornell in Mount Vernon and Mike Somsky.  Both Mike and Brent were hard workers and had great attitudes and were also two of the best wrestlers that I have coached that never made it to the State tournament.  They both did everything right but it just didn’t happen for them. The saddest wrestling experience was my son Cody.  Cody’s senior year he was ranked number 1 at 135 and was beaten at Districts by Adam Kurinski from Fairfield and did not qualify for State.  Cody had beat him badly a few weeks prior like 14-3. Kurinski went on to win the State tournament.  To this very day Cody or I have not watched the match.

 

Do you approach different athletes in different ways depending on how they respond to certain approaches or do you approach every kid the same way?

The main concept I learned from Dan Gable is that every athlete is different and as a coach you need to find out what that particular athlete needs to reach his goals.  I have been able to get to know my athletes and their particular needs.  In the past several years of coaching I have done a lot of individualized work with my athletes.

 

If a kid has anxiety/panic issues, what approach do you take to get those kids to believe in themselves?

A lot of managing this comes in how you prepare your wrestlers in the wrestling room.  Positive encouragement at all times is a must in the wrestling room. There have been a lot of times that I will sit down with an athlete of mine and talk things out.

 

What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

My sophomore year in High School when I got beat in the first round of Districts when I was seated first and undefeated prior to the match. Had to stay home that year. Coaching it was in 2013, my first year back at Lisbon, and we lost to Wilton in the first round of Regional Duals. They got their lead and then forfeited 4-5 matches to save themselves for Alburnett in the finals. Lost a lot of respect for their program when that happened. They haven’t beaten us since.

 

Did Lisbon welcome you with open arms immediately or did you have to earn their respect?  

They were use to Coach Baxter and it took some time for them to understand that there is more than one way to be a successful coach. Like I said earlier it took a little time to understand my coaching methods.  When they did we were on our way and it ended up being a smooth transition for them.

 

Describe how tight-knit and proud the Lisbon wrestling community is… 

We have great fan support. Having the tradition Lisbon has makes everything easier.  Our parents really support our program as well as the entire community. Our administration is also very supportive. Most of our athletes are involved in 2-3 sports which makes all our programs more competitive. Our coaches encourage their athletes to go out for other sports. Everyone works together for a common goal.

 

I’ve mentioned several times that your son, Jacob was one of the toughest guys I used to face growing up.  He was one of 2 guys in the grade below me who had my number, for I didn’t usually lose to younger guys. Couldn’t beat Jacob, though! He was capable of winning multiple titles, IMO, by unfortunately it didn’t happen. How did you coach your son to become as good as he was?  Was he good from the start or did it take time?

Jacob was a natural athlete but he had a great work ethic as well.  He started young like most kids do now, especially being the coach’s son. He was successful when he first started competing – like 1st grade. Good balance, quick, and always strong for his age. All my sons started young.  I never pushed Jacob into competition, he just enjoyed it.  Even though he is my son I still feel that he is one of the best wrestlers I have coached that never won a State Championship.

 

How would you compare and contrast your coaching approaches with all 3 of your sons, Cody, Colton and Jacob? Were they similar or different?  

Actually I coached all 3 of my boys and they had their own styles.  Jacob was the most physical of the 3, Cody probably the most technical, and Colton the most aggressive. I tried to treat and coach my boys just like I coached everyone else.

 

What was your proudest Cody, Colton and Jacob moments?

In 2002 when Iowa City High won both the Traditional and Dual Team Championships – it was awesome to have them both on State Championship teams. It is something they will always remember and be a part of. Cody was a sophomore and placed 4th at 112 and Jacob was a senior and finished 2nd at 145. They wrestled their hearts out in both the Duals and Traditional. I was proud how much they contributed to the team that season. For Colton after a tough loss his Junior year, he came back tough to get 3rd.

We finished 16 points ahead of Lewis Central so every team point made a difference.

 

Did you feel more anxious for your own matches or your sons’ matches?

Whenever my boys went out to compete I always felt that was part of me out there.  I definitely was more intense for their matches cause I always wanted them to succeed.  I seldom got anxious before I competed because I always felt I had a chance to win.

 

Did your wife’s family wrestle or was it just your side?

Just my side.  My wife never saw me wrestle a match during my career at Iowa.  I met her after I won the NCAA my senior year.  We have been married for 42 years now and she has been by my side all these years. She has been my support system and I would not have had the success I’ve had without her.

 

I have noticed that you are incredibly good with remembering faces and names when you see them. We ran into you at a restaurant in Dubuque and you knew who myself and 3 of my friends were from youth/HS wrestling. We couldn’t believe it. Are you naturally good at this or do you just remember certain people easier for whatever reason it may be? Did you train yourself to become good at this?

Anyone that has ever wrestled I have respect for.  I owe it to people that have been involved in wrestling.  I feel really bad when I see someone I should know and don’t remember their name.  As a coach I also have respect for the athletes and try my best to get to know their names.  It has helped me through all these years because I go to AAU State every year and I have worked with the elite wrestlers at Fargo for several years so that helps.

 

What do we have to do to make the sport of wrestling more appealing to the kid who is on the fence in terms of trying it?  

That is the responsibility of the Head Coach of that school.  You have to have a good feeder program to get those kids interested.  I also believe you do not get those kids that are on the fence to compete until they are really ready.  We have a great feeder program and that makes my job so much easier. One of the issues with youth programs is young wrestlers compete too early and get burnt out. Youth coaches should not push their young athletes into competing until they are ready.

 

How do you feel the stereotypical wrestler is generally portrayed in the media?

The sport writers I know do a really nice job portraying wrestlers in a positive way.  I also feel that coaches are doing a better job of educating their wrestlers the proper way to get to their ideal weight class. Our coaches here at Lisbon constantly talk about how important nutrition is to their success. The referees I have been around always mention the importance of sportsmanship. Parents and coaches have the most influence on our wrestlers so what they do and say will have a lasting impact.

 

If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?

My college career. I finished well but didn’t reach the goals I set for myself earlier in my career.

 

What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?  

Winning by a major decision my senior year at the NCAA finals and getting the Lisbon coaching job in 1978.

 

Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?

No one really in high school but college it was Andre Allen.  Ironically I beat him 3-2 my junior year in the State finals – he was a senior then.  He beat me at the Big Ten’s and also in the Midland’s finals. He was a NCAA runner-up before I won it my senior year. We went back and forth.  He was a great competitor.

 

Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

I participated in Football, wrestling, and baseball in High School.  I always found time to compete in wrestling as much as possible because I knew it was my ticket to college. We played baseball in the spring so that left my summer pretty open so I could go through the Illinois freestyle circuit.  Wrestled plenty of freestyle and won 3 State Freestyle titles and placed 3 times at the Junior National Freestyle tournament and was a runner-up In Greco.

 

How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?

The technique is more advanced now and I also feel  the wrestlers now know how to train better. Wrestlers back in my day were very good but didn’t have all the opportunities that wrestlers have now.

 

Did you wrestle after high school?

University of Iowa. 1973-1976. Wrestled varsity all 4 years.

 

What other sports did you play?

I was an All-State Football player, a 2 time State Champion, and an All State baseball player.

 

What are your favorite sports teams?

There is no team I follow more than the Chicago Cubs.  My dad use to take me to Cubs games when I was a kid. My parents both worked during the day and I would fake being sick so I could watch a Cub game on WGN.  One of the highlights of my life was when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016. I’m also a Bears fan and have huge respect for Michael Jordan.

 

What are your hobbies other than wrestling?

When I was in high school collecting baseball cards and playing sandlot baseball with my high school buddies. Now I enjoy playing games like uno, backgammon, checkers, and playing pool. I also enjoy watching scary movies on NetFlix.  I have to watch them by myself because my wife won’t watch them with me.  Most of all I enjoy spending time with my family.  My wife and I have 6 grandchildren now.

 

How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?

I love the sport of wrestling.  It has made me learn how to overcome adversity and persevere. I really enjoy giving back to the sport that has given so much to me. Coaching has given me the opportunity to guide my wrestlers to take the right path in life and for them to obtain their goals.

 

How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

As Dan Gable says ”Once you have wrestled everything in life comes easier.” I have learned how to set goals and still do this very day.  I feel that I need to accomplish something every day. Because of wrestling I have learned how to handle adversity and make better decisions in my life.  I have learned to treat people on how I want to be treated. I have also learned to be more patient with people and respect everyone even though they may have a different outlook on life.  Through wrestling the most important way it has shaped me is to be the best husband and father I can be.

 

What do you do now?

I’ll be in my 43rd season as a Head Coach.  21 at City High and 22nd at Lisbon.

 

Are you still involved with wrestling?

I will always be in some way. Don’t know what I would do without it.

 

Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

Set your goals early and have a plan of action. A lot of young wrestlers set goals but don’t understand how to get there.  Make wrestling fun and don’t take it too seriously right away.

 

Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?

After I finished competing at the Midlands just for fun I went to a few Old Timers tournaments. I would go with a few of my former City High and Lisbon wrestlers. We had some good times.  You wouldn’t see me doing it now!

 

Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?

One of the coaches I grew to really respect is Keith Massey who spent several years as the Head Coach at Lewis Central.  He had some great teams and wrestlers. I enjoyed coaching against his teams, and even though his wrestler Trent Paulson stood in my son Jacobs way, he was a class act. Also several of my former team mates at Iowa that have become lifelong friends. Dan Holm, Bob Pratt, Tony Cordes, Chuck Yagla, Tim Cysewski, Mark Mysnyk, Greg Stevens, Mike McGivern, Mike McDonough,  Dan Wagemann, Doug Benschoter, Chris Campbell, Steve Hunte, and John Bowlsby.  The bond between wrestlers is the best.

And finally a shout out to the Head Coaches of outstanding programs that I have had the opportunity to work with over the years at freestyle competition and to train our wrestlers to get ready for Fargo. Rick Caldwell, Bob Yilek, Ron Gray, the late Bob Darrah, Brian Moore, Mark Reiland, Danny Knight, Jason Christenson, Eric Whitcome, Brent Jennings, Steve Mickelson, among others. Being around these guys only can make you better.

 

Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.

When I took the job at Lisbon in 1978 I was the only coach in our system until 1987.  I ran the kids club, Junior High program, and obviously the High School program.  Coach Baxter did the same while he was at Lisbon.  My first assistant was a great friend and former teammate at Iowa, named Mike McDonough. That was in 1987 when Lisbon won the first Dual team Championship in Iowa’s history and we finished 3rd in the Traditional. In 1988, Scott Martin became my assistant until the time I left after the 1991 season. To this day I consider Scott one of my best friends and contributed so much to our program. During my time with Scott we won 4 State Traditional titles, 1 Dual title, and 3 runner-up Dual titles.  Scott went through the Al Baxter era and has more pride in the Lisbon tradition more than anyone I know.

When I came back to Lisbon in 2013 it took a few years to get our program back to where it was use to being.  Since that time I have surrounded myself with outstanding individuals that had an amazing connection to Lisbon.  Here a list of the former wrestlers of mine that joined me to bring Lisbon back to the top. Doren Montgomery (State Champ), Dean Happel (3 time State Champ), Shane Light (4 time State Champ), Brian Hall (State Champ), Jeff Clark (State Champ), and Greg Butteris (State Champ). I might have forgotten a few. There are others that I didn’t have the opportunity to coach that have put in a lot of time for Lisbon. Joe Kilburg (State Runner-up at Bellevue-has been involved for several years), Matt Gogel (who runs our Youth program), JJ Butteris (2 time State Champion), and Tait Simpson (State Runner-up).  I can’t forget to mention the Coaches that helped me with our success at City High. Larry Brown, Garl McLaughlin, Andy Haman, Steve Randall, CT Campbell, Tony Brown, Mike Fumagalli, Jay Chelf, Jason Halupnick, Eric Koble, Jeff Bradley, the late Willie Gadson, Richard Kunc, Johnny Galloway, Jason Payne, Jamie Kamberling, and Eric Traynor.

 

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By Stephen Stonebraker .

1st Place was Gabe Venz of North Central. Very nice, polite kid. Dad & I ran into him during the tournament before the finals. Called my Dad sir & kept on letting us know that he thought I was a very worthy opponent. Took him down in the first period, stuck me in the second. I believe he never wrestled again after this season.

2nd Place was Michael Bucklin of Colfax Mingo, one of my best friends in wrestling over a four year period. He had taken second in 1996 at the AAU’s as well. He beat me for the district title that year I believe in sudden victory. In high school he wrestled at 215 lbs & placed fifth twice in his sophomore & junior seasons before capping off his career with a state title as a senior. Wrestled a season or two at Iowa & then transferred to Wartburg for his remaining eligibility.

3rd place was Todd Parrish of Lenox. Very methodical wrestler. Did a great job of studying and scouting his opponents. I twisted my knee & it shut down my offense as he defeated me 7-2. In high school he won a state title his junior season & then took third place as a senior.

4th place me – Stephen Stonebraker… Had a great tournament with some notable wins. Two years later broke my back & missed nearly all of my eighth grade season. Had to have a major 24 hour surgery operation & wasn’t cleared to do anything at all (wrestle, lift, run, ect) until 3 weeks into the wrestling season my freshman year. Never was the same after. Weighed more here in this picture than I did as a senior in high school.

5th place was Kevin Trullinger of Mount Ayr. Great kid & very talkative. During the award ceremony when we were seated on the chairs waiting for our turn on the stand, he went up and shook everyone’s hand. Later that night Dad & I ran into him at a buffet. I think it may have been Bonanza. He saw me getting some salad & came up to me and said, “No, no, no no…dude the season is OVER, we’re piggin out!” Kevin was 7th-3rd his last two years of high school

6th place was Bob Swift of West Delaware. I believe Bob may have wrestled for a few more years after this, but Bob’s real passion was football. He was a standout football player in high school & went on to success at Northern Iowa. I believe he played some semi-pro ball for a few years post college & I had heard by never confirmed that he even had a year or two in the Canadian Football League.

7th Place was Tade Kracklio of Wilton – I have a funny story about Kracklio. I had wrestled him first round & beat him. A group of people (kids & adults) from Wilton didn’t realize that Kracklio and I had already wrestled. He had been the AAU champion from the year before & they found me & began to harass me, trying to psyche me out. “Tade’s gonna whip you dude.” “You’ll be lucky if you don’t get pinned.” “You won’t last the first period with him.” I just sorta stood there until a guy came up with new brackets to post to the walls. There it showed that I had advanced over him. Those Wilton people disappeared faster than Speedy Gonzalez! The next season I believe Kracklio won another AAU title or placed pretty high. He had gained a tremendous amount of weight. I want to say that he wrestled the next season at like 205. I never heard of him wrestling in high school.

8th place was Marcus “Buddy” Lewis and I don’t remember where he was from. He was appropriately named “Buddy.” Probably the friendliest kid I’ve ever known in wrestling during my life. The year before he pinned me/eliminated me from the bracket & afterwards helped me up & started talking my ear off. This year, I pinned him, helped him up off the mat, and he talked my ear off. I remember on the award stand he was talking to Bob Swift & the camera man yelled at him to be quiet and pay attention. That’s why he has that look on his face & I have that trying to laugh look on my face.

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How Close Were The 3 Timers To Winning 4? Part 3

When reviewing the 3 timers in Iowa high school state wrestling history, it’s interesting how some of these guys are connected. I will try to post the “connected” wrestlers in the same articles.

 

Jason Kelber: State Center-West Marshall/University of Nebraska

When having the GOAT debate, it is natural for people to select a 4X state champion as who they believe to be the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler, but I don’t know if it is quite that simple. There are some things that all state champions and wrestlers have that are either within or out of their control… for example; who they wrestled, when they wrestled and when they peaked.  With that said, Jason Kelber went 2-1-1-1 and certainly has a case for being the Iowa HS GOAT. He was defeated in the finals in 1983 by Don Bosco’s Scott Mangrich, but went on to win it all the next 3 years, defeating John Ites (Iowa Falls), Tom Brands (Sheldon) and Dan Sinnott (Albia) in the finals. Mangrich was in the bracket he won as a Sophomore and placed 4th. Had Kelber won that state finals match his Freshman year, he would certainly be a more popular pick for the GOAT. I mean, the man went on to win an NCAA title in college, so he was most certainly legit. I will say this, I don’t think anyone has ever wrestled at a higher level than Kelber did in HS in Iowa. He’s in about every discussion you concoct.

 

 

 

Derek Moyer, Oskaloosa HS/University of Nebraska

Speaking of GOAT’s and Cornhusker wrestlers, Moyer has been referred to by 2-3 Southern Iowa wrestlers as who they believe to be the GOAT in their RTW articles and he also happened to wrestle at Nebraska. He infamously defeated Montell Marion in the state finals as a Freshman and Sophomore and according to those who watched him a lot, was one of the best ever. The only year he did not win ways his Junior season…he was out with an injury… That’s pretty close!

 

 

Joshua Portillo: Clarion-Goldfield-Dows/University of Nebraska-Kearney

Joshua is another guy who wrestled at the collegiate level in Nebraska, but he was not a Husker. He is maybe the best 125 lber at the D2 level at U of Nebraska-Kearney. Why did he not win 4? Because he only wrestled in Iowa as a 10th-12th grader… There is a good chance he would have won 4 if he were in Iowa as a Freshman. He defeated some of the state’s best ever in his journey for 3 titles in Iowa, as you will read below. He and his twin brother, Justin are a couple of the best HS wrestlers to grace the mat on the state of Iowa and you will be up against a roided-out elephant trying to convince me otherwise. They are great for Iowa wrestling.

 

Bryce West: Highland and Solon HS/Northern Illinois University

The West Twins were fun and there isn’t really anything that I’ve seen that is quite like them. Very unique. They are acrobatic, perform low percentage moves and get them to work against upper-tier competition, dominant, athletic, mentally tough, etc. Bryce and Drew West were able to rack up the scores and win big against guys who were accomplished on the National stage. The only year Bryce did not win state was his Freshman season… he was defeated by a guy who was also a twin, whose twin brother wrestled Bryce’s twin brother, Drew in the finals that year. His name was Joshua Portillo.

 

 

Michael Blockhus: Crestwood and New Hampton HS/ UNI Panthers

It took me way, wayyyy too long to jump aboard the Blockhus Train. Every year, it seemed like he was proving me wrong. I don’t know if I was selling him short, not giving him enough credit, late to the party or what, but his Freshman season I predicted Noah Fye or Gable Sieperda to win his bracket. Blockhus won. As a Junior, I predicted Drew West to win his bracket. Blockhus won that too. The only year I predicted him to win was his Senior season and that was a no-brainer. The only year he did not win was his Sophomore season. He was beaten in the finals by none other than Joshua Portillo. The kid is no longer capable of proving me wrong. I believe in the guy 💯.

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1.) Triston Lara- Fort Dodge

2.) Justin Tedrow- CR Prairie

3.) Brayden Curry- SB-Luton

4.) Brennan Swafford – Mepo

5.) Nathan Feldman- Hempstead

6.) Keaton Geerts- New Hampton

7.) Grant Stotts- Valley- WDM

8.) Zach Oldham- Valley- WDM

 

* All of these guys except Tedrow qualified for state in HS.

* All of these guys except Tedrow and Oldham placed at state in HS.

* 5 of these guys were state finalists in HS (Lara, Curry, Brennan Swaff, Geerts, Stotts).

* 3 of these guys won state in HS: Stotts, Lara and Geerts. Geerts and Lara battled all the way until their Senior years in HS. That was fun. They are also teammates at UNI.

* At the college level, there is a national champ. Brennan Swafford won NAIA Nationals for Graceland University.

* This was Brennan’s first year trying out the “big” AAU tournament. He had done Super Pee-Wee the previous 3 years and placed 4th, 2nd and 1st there, buy this was a bigger stage than that. He was defeated by Triston Lara in the semifinals, 4-0 on a match that Lara controlled. Ironically, he had wrestled Triston’s brother, Cayd in the SPW finals the previous two years, in which they split wins. Brennan got a kick out of Triston at that tournament. Triston was very chatty with him when they were warming up for their semis match and Brennan was thrown off by it at first, but thought he was a funny guy. He actually had a good T-Lara impression back then. Not making fun of him or anything, just a good impression. He liked him. They met in the semis in basically every odd year for Brennan (even for T-Lara at AAU state). That kid was a handful for us.

* This tournament was the start of Triston Lara becoming Brayden Curry’s Achilles’s Heel. Every year, people would predict Curry to win the tournament and he would win it…. unless he had to wrestle Triston. Triston just had Brayden’s number. And it was weird, Triston would either best Brayden badly, or Brayden would be up big with 30 seconds left and T-Lara would always end up throwing him and pinning him. The only kid who could really beat Curry consistently in those days. It still shocks me that Curry never won state.

* Justin Tedrow has the tournament of his life here. He didn’t stick it out much longer after that year, but he and his little brother Jacob were very good. Nathan Feldman was expected to blaze through Tedrow in the semis and Tedrow beat Feldman with a nasty cradle. It’s too bad he didn’t stick it out.

* My brothers Shea and Brennan wrestled the Feldman’s (Nathan, Jackson and Cody) more than they wrestled anyone.  They went back and forth every year like 6 times per year. Nathan was good enough to win state every year, but something catastrophic always seemed to happen to him in the semis.

* This was the first time we encountered Keaton Geerts and it wasn’t the last. Keaton and Brennan wrestled for 5th and 6th at state in HS and seemed like they met up every other year at AAU. They went back and forth and it was always heated. The Geerts corner could get pretty worked up with adrenaline while Keaton was wrestling and so could I. I almost got into a fight with his corner that year for we were both getting overly lippy with each other when the boys were wrestling. I broke the ice and apologized after the tournament was over and we were ok ever since. I think they are really funny. Something that cracked me up was that whenever they were talking about Triston Lara, they would refer to him as “that Asian kid.” It’s just funny how he perceived young Triston.

* At that time and at that weight range, the 3rd graders who were the most hyped were Stotts and Brennan and every year people talked about whether they would meet up or not. They only did twice ever. The first time was at this tournament in which Brennan won. Stotts defeated Brennan at AAU a year or two later and that was the last time they wrestled despite still weighing the same to this day.

* Zach Oldham was a pretty big deal too. He was always one of the best in his grade. He did not accomplish what he was capable of in high school, IMO. I don’t know why, but I just know the kid real well and I know he had the skill set in there to take home a ton of hardware at the high school level. I’d love to see him make a comeback, for I know he can excel at the college level. He had been wrestling since he was 4 and maybe he just needed a couple years off.

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The first time that Heath Johnson ever hit my radar was a pretty crazy experience, really.  He frustrated a longtime friend/practice partner so badly on the mat to the point where this guy did something that was totally out of character for him.

So I was part of the Burlington Youth Club growing up which was more or less a Mepo-Burlington hybrid. When we reached high school, we all split up into whichever school district we resided in, which in most cases was either Burlington High School or Mediapolis High School.  The split had a terrible effect on a lot of us. I was one of them. I wasn’t the same guy without having Phillip Klees and Adam Roberts to work out with every day. We were a perfect group of 3 and sadly for me, I was the only one of the 3 who went to Mepo although I’m glad I was at Mepo… just wish they were there with me.  There were only 3 guys that I can think of who I had as practice partners from youth all the way through HS wrestling. Justin Kramer and Josh Gunn were 2 of them. Kramer especially since he and I were the same weight when I began and never drifted off too far from each other weight-wise until we graduated.  There was another guy who started wrestling when he and I were in 4th grade and we were practice partners all the way until our Senior seasons, despite him always being a couple weight classes heavier than me. I remember the first practice he attended…I had no idea that it was the beginning of what would end up becoming a trio of Mepo’s best ever wrestling brothers. I won’t disclose his name, for this story chronicles a moment that he would likely consider to be the one he is least proud of, but he’s a good dude and a good wrestler.  We will just refer to him as Bubba Smith…that seems to be the name I go with every time I want someone to remain anonymous.

So AAU State my 6th grade year was full of several results, situations, etc. that were huge storylines for our club. I placed 3rd for the second year in a row after being beaten in the first couple rounds and having to win 6-7 matches on the backside…for the second year in a row. My brother was the returning state champion and was expected to breeze through the tourney, but was beaten by a kid named Henry Wahle from Underwood both in the quarterfinals and for 3rd and 4th place. Justin placed 4th, which was his lowest ever AAU finish and after that weekend he didn’t lose another folkstyle match until he was a 7th grader, I believe.  Phillip Klees avenged 2-3 bad losses from earlier in the season at this tourney.  And another thing that happened was this was the “breakthrough” tournament for Bubba Smith which was the start of several years of he and his brothers being hammers that racked up a lot of hardware over the years. To be honest, nobody expected much from Bubba coming into the tournament.  It was only his 3rd year and we were happy to get him to qualify for the tournament, to be honest.  He was very talented and athletically gifted, he was just inexperienced at the time and hadn’t ever come close to beating any of the top guys in his grade.  He shocked everyone that weekend, though and steam-rolled his way to the finals, knocking off hammer after hammer after hammer in the process. Bubba Smith arrived on the state wrestling scene and officially put everyone in our grade and weight range on notice.  He had already exceeded everyone’s expectations and had one more match to win to accomplish his season goal of winning state… and this was in the finals vs. Heath Johnson. Win or lose, this was supposed to be Bubba’s best weekend ever. We were all so excited for him. It didn’t seem like anything could put a damper on it…. but we were wrong for assuming that.

Prior to Bubba and Smith’s match, I asked my dad who was co-head coach of our club, “is this kid that Bubba has in the finals good?”  My dad replied, “oh yeah…yes, yes, yes indeed he is, Joshua. One of the best kids I’ve seen at any weight, all tournament long. It has been a great run for Bubba, but this kid is in a league of his own compared to some of the other guys he’s faced so far.  I hope Bubba does it, but he will have his hands full.”

So Bubba takes the mat against Heath Johnson and you could tell at first glance that Heath was just a hammer.  He was a red-haired dude who just had that “I am a badass” look to him. He was a 6th grader who looked like he could bench-press a dump truck.  Could definitely pass for an 8th grader.  He took Bubba down easily and looked smooth and technical in doing so. Heath Johnson had an answer to everything that Bubba attempted in that match that had been working so well for him all tournament long. Bubba actually didn’t wrestle that bad of a match against him…he was just clearly out-matched against a better, more experienced wrestler. Nothing to be ashamed of. And as the match went on, Bubba became visibly more and more frustrated as the outcome became more and more out of reach and in Johnson’s favor.  In the 3rd period, they had a little flurry that I believe went out of bounds and at the restart, Bubba started on top, trailing by at least 8 points by this time.  Bubba attempted a turn of some sort and Johnson fought this off and looked like he was going to get his hips free and score a 2 point reversal, when something happened to Bubba that none of us had ever seen from him before or ever see since.  His visible frustration with the match made a transition to all-out anger to the point where he totally lost his temper in the middle of the 3rd period.  His face became beat red and he gritted his teeth before doing what nobody who knew him would have ever expected him to do… he put his left arm around Heath’s upper-torso and with his right arm, he wound up and brought his fist back as if he were a major league pitcher and CRACK, CRACK!!! Bubba uppercutted Heath Johnson (I believe twice) in the face. It was one of those moments where everything seemed to get quiet and things were moving about in slow motion. You could hear the sound of Bubba punching Heath clear as day. He hit him HARD. Heath took a helluva punch and it was impressive that he wasn’t injured or dazed from it.  The match was immediately stopped by the ref, for there was no question to anyone what had happened. My attention immediately went to whatever Heath’s response to that was going to be.  “Is he gonna fight back? Is there gonna be a brawl right now?” I thought to myself.  Heath’s expression appeared to be as confused as everyone else’s and when he understood what the situation was and that Bubba was DQ’d from the tournament, Heath calmly shook Bubba’s hand and confusion changed to joy when he realized that he had just won state.  I couldn’t believe the self-control and even temperament of this guy.  I would have been irate if I were him.  In fact, dating back to my 2nd grade year or so, I had a tendency to become “chippy” with anyone who I thought cheap-shotted me for whatever reason. I got into an all-out fight with this kid named Blake Edwards every time I wrestled him. If someone hits me, it pisses me off and it’s my knee-jerk reaction to hit back. I would have surely punched Bubba back if it was my face he hit, but Heath is apparently a better, more patient man than I am. He handled it like a pro…and he was only in 6th grade. A 6th grader who could wrestle like an elite HS guy already and had sportsmanship that exceeded even that.  It was crazy.

And nobody could believe their eyes, for Bubba was and still is a very nice person. I mean. I consider this dude to be one of my best friends to this day, but we butted heads quite a few times. He and I wrestled with each other for hundreds of hours in practice over the years. We had several moments that had become pretty heated.  He never once became cheap with me or anyone in the room or on the mat during competition for that matter. He and I had our own little “in room” rivalry that we try not to bring up to each other to this day, for it sometimes results in both of us throwing shade at the other where physical confrontations seem to be a possibility. I have had him so frustrated in practice to where he would quit or shut down for the remainder of practice. I can remember two practices in high school where he got me so frustrated that I just stormed out of the room because I was so ticked off.  Never once did he ever punch me or come anywhere close.  It just wasn’t something you’d expect from him on the mat, for it just didn’t happen unless he was wrestling his older brother who knew how to push every one of his buttons.  He was a pretty even-tempered guy.  Not when he wrestled Heath, though. I have spoken to Bubba several times about what he was thinking when he did that and I have inquired about whether or not Heath was doing something out there to upset him… something that was going on that none of us could see. Bubba has always said something along the lines of, “nope, he was just so good that I felt like I couldn’t do anything. My confidence was at it’s max coming into the match and I felt like I could beat anyone on the planet and it shattered me when I discovered against that guy that I was far from it. I barely remember it because I was so upset that I felt like I couldn’t even think straight at the time.”  It was pretty unfortunate, really.  He was having the tournament of his life to that point.  And because he did what he did in that match, he wasn’t allowed on the podium and wasn’t awarded a medal.  My dad did call the AAU and fibbed by saying that he had a son who lost his silver medal at the tournament and requested a replacement.  Which they did send to us and my dad was able to give it to Bubba at the wrestling banquet about a month later.  My dad and everyone who was part of our club knew that what we saw in that match was not “him.” We knew that he essentially just “had a moment” in that match and that he was better than that.  The main thing was just learning from the experience, which he did. He never had a moment in any match that merely resembled what we saw against Heath. And Heath went on to become the hammer that we all knew he would be.

On a different note, Heath was always a couple weight classes heavier than me, but I did end up in his bracket at one tournament.  This was at the Mick Pickford Fort Madison Freestyle tournament my Senior year in 2001. This was back in the days when the Mick Pickford was a Fargo National qualifier tournament and it wasn’t uncommon to see brackets with 35-50 guys in it. I was in the 165 lb. bracket, which had probably 35 guys in it, give or take.  It was THE toughest bracket I have ever been part of and I wrestled really good at it. I placed 3rd. I wrestled some of my best matches ever at this tournament.  Some of the guys in this bracket included several state champions, placers and qualifiers such as; Heath Johnson, Cole Pape, Cody Koenig,  Marcus Schneider, Joe Kane, Adam Reid, Adam Butikofer, Jared Evans, Marshall Marquardt, Adam Earll, etc.  And since this was considered the “Tri-State” Championship tournament, there were also several hammers from Illinois and Missouri. I heard there was a 4X state champion from Missouri in our bracket, but I never knew who it was or if it was true. There are several more Iowa guys that I am leaving out.  Anyways, I made it to the top 3 with Marshall Marquardt and Heath Johnson and had one more match to go to reach the finals.  This was against Marquardt, who was tough as nails and if I would have beaten him, the finals match would be against Heath.  I had wrestled Marquardt the year before and thought I had accidentally poked his eye out when defending a shot of his in that match. Scared the crap out of me.  Anyways, he and I were in a pretty tough match all the way until Marshall hit a slide-by on me and when he got behind me, he launched me in the only suplex I ever fell victim to in my career.  I was embarrassed the moment that I was upside down and noticed my feet in the air.  When I landed, I remember thinking, “ah crap, I hope nobody noticed that.”  I lifted my head up to see if anyone did and of course, there’s Corey Kalina, Mack Reiter and Trent Goodale sitting matside, laughing. They obviously witnessed it.  🙂 And in the corner of my eye, there was Heath with a smile on his face. He was presumably watching the match to see who he would have in the finals.  Heath went on to win that finals match, which crowned him as champion of the most stacked bracket I was ever part of. Tough, tough wrestler.

 

What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?

Kindergarten -8th mat club in jewell. 7-12th South Hamilton. 7-8th fort dodge wrestling club.

 

What year did you graduate?

2001

 

Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

My brother Hesston wrestled when I was in pre school, so I thought I would give it a shot in kindergarten,and I was a little ornery, so my dad probably pushed me a little bit.

 

Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?

Brother Hesston, 2 times place winner at Iowa High-school state and wrestled for UNI.
Nephew Hesston is currently in 8th grade wrestles for Roland Story.

 

What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

3 times state champ, Adam Fellers and Paul Bradley.

 

What do you remember about winning AAU as a 6th grader? The finals match..

When I was beating “Bubba” he got a little mad and decided to punch me, lol.

 

What was your record in HS?

136-16

 

How did you place at state every year?

Freshman 6th, Junior 5th.

 

What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?

Getting beat out of state my sophomore and senior yr. taught me there was always room for improvement.

 

How would you describe your wrestling style?

I attacked and tried to break everyone I wrestled.

 

How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?

In high school it was always during freestyle with Paul Bradley or Greco with Mark Mueller.

 

Who was your most influential coach?

I had several. Ivan Vust who ran the kids program. Todd Coy and Chad Latch who were both my high school coaches. And last but not least, Mike Rial who was my freestyle and Greco coach.

 

Was your team competitive in HS/college?

My freshman and sophomore my highschool team was tough and In college at Ellsworth we got 2nd and fourth.

 

Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?

My brother Hesston Johnson.

 

Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?

Max Thomsen and mostly because my buddy Bart Mehlert was one of his coaches.

 

Who are your favorite current wrestlers?

Spencer Lee and David Carr.

 

What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?

Lots of country. Mostly George Strait.

 

What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

Senior yr at state knowing I could of done way better.

 

If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?

To know how to peak and to listen to my body.

 

What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?

Probably going to Fort Madison after my senior yr of state and tech falling 2 four-timers.

 

Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?

Curtis Williamson and Mark Mueller in high school

 

Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

All year.

 

How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?

I think I’m my day we were just more hard nosed than today. But that being said today they are much more technical and everyone is getting to that elite level faster.

 

Did you wrestle after high school?

Ellsworth Community College.

 

What other sports did you play?

Football.

 

What are your favorite sports teams?

ISU football. ISU and Iowa wrestling.

 

What are your hobbies other than wrestling?

I am a professional power lifter. Ride horses. Have an obsession with my three English bulldogs and spend time with my wife Justine.

 

How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?

Makes me feel good cause it taught me my work ethic and what hard work can do.

 

How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

Work ethic and hard work pays off in the end.

 

What do you do now?

I am a strength and conditioning coach for South Hamilton in Jewell. I am employed by premier athletic training in Ames, Iowa. And help my wife with our catering business the silver spoon in Roland.

 

Are you still involved with wrestling?

I am the strength and conditioning coach at South Hamilton and try to help in the room when possible.

 

Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

Take advice and ask questions. There is always someone out there training just as hard as you so push it just a bit harder.

 

Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?

You never know and that sounds like fun.

 

Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?

To all the life long friends I have made and there is too many to name off.

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How Close Were The 3 Timers From Winning 4 Titles Part 2

JIMMY WATERS, LEWIS CENTRAL

Let’s start with Jimmy Waters. Does anyone remember watching how elite he was as a Junior and Senior? He was incredible. I’m really not sure I’ve seen anyone better when he was at his peak. One of the best ever, IMO. Won it every year except his Freshman season, but he deserves a break there… he was a middle weight sized Freshman who was up against one of the most talented kids in the entire 2004 graduating class, Bryce Carruthers, from CB Thomas Jefferson. And he did fine against him. I wish I had access to more than just his Freshman match. He’s definitely one of my favorites… especially with me being a big multi-sporter fan… Jimmy is the poster boy for “elite multi-sporter wrestler.”

 

 

IKE LIGHT, LISBON

Ike was a 3 timer going into his Senior season and lost in the semifinals to Dr. Dan Gabrielson from Belmond-Klemme, who is also a great wrestler. It is impressive that Ike won the 3 he did with the insane talent pool that those guys had year in, year out in that weight range. There are a few unfortunate things about how all this went down. For one, since Ike was from Lisbon, a powerhouse, the entire auditorium excluding the Lisbon fans, many of whom were crying due to feeling so bad for Ike, essentially gave Dan a standing ovation after the match when it was anticipated that Ike would have been the one receiving that ovation had he made the finals and won that match.  It’s also unfortunate that a large part of his legacy seems to be defined by that one tournament and he has been inquired about it by countless media sources including myself to weigh in on the matter, in which it’s likely not something he wants to re-live. Prior to Adam Allard this year, he was the only 3 timer to get beat at state his Senior year. Those Senior season tournaments should not define their legacies by any means. Ike was a great wrestler.

 

 

THE NEXT 3 ALL HAVE SOMETHING IN COMMON…. THEY HAD RUN-INS WITH THIS GUY WHEN THE STAKES WERE HIGH:

Sawyer Farris, New London

 

DYLAN PETERS, DENVER-TRIPOLI

Peters was a fan favorite because he was so fun to watch and had the world’s most deadly pancake or whip-over. If a guy shot and Peters sprawled and locked up a front-headlock, the moment the opponent would lift their right arm up or the moment Peters would manually lift the guys right elbow up, BOOM! Peters would strike like a Cobra with that pancake and put them away. He placed 2nd at state behind Alex Spooner as an undersized Freshman. Crazy thing was, Peters was undersized in that match (I heard he weighed 88 lbs) and he had spent some time switching off on varsity with his teammate and now fellow coach at Simpson, Gunnar Wolfensperger. Peters basically blew through everyone his final 3 years, but Farris was an exception. Those two met in the quarters their senior years and Peters pinned Farris in OT. It was CLOSE though… if there were just one more second on the clock in the 3rd period, Farris may have won the match with the spladle he executed right at the end. One of the best matches to ever take place at Iowa State tournament.

 

TYLER SHULISTA, ALBURNETT

When Shulista was in youth, Alburnett and Mepo dominated the AAU state tourneys every year. It was cool seeing a couple small-town, homegrown programs consistently make the most noise at those tournaments. Alburnett was awesome. Had a great run and the Shulista family may be THE biggest reason for that considering the practice facility and atmosphere they produced. The only year Tyler did not win state was his Freshman season. He was defeated by Sawyer Farris at state that year. Those two met several times in HS and I think that’s the one time Farris beat Shulista. Tyler also has a connection with Ike Light. Ike helped coach Tyler and I believe they became such good friends that Shulista was in Ike’s wedding. It is likely that Ike coached Shulista to try to prepare for Farris.

 

TOPHER CARTON, DAVENPORT ASSUMPTION

I personally classify Topher Carton along with Adam Allard and Ike Light as guys who were 3 timers, that did not win state as Seniors, but several don’t, for Topher won 2 of his titles in (gasp!) Illinois. I grew up literally a couple miles across the bridge from Illinois and still live there and I can say with confidence, wrestling in the Illinois HS scene is not a knock on a guy’s resume. I wrestled Illinois guys since I was a kid and wrestled with many of them in college. They were and still are legit. Great wrestling in Illinois. So many people wanted to see Carton lose when he transferred to Assumption, for he was the “transfer student” of his class that harshed some of our Iowans on the mat. I was included in this group. After he lost his finals match to future 4 timer, Brandon Sorensen as a Senior, the crowd cheered loud, for our Iowa guy defeated the Illinois guy. And what did Carton do? He looked Sorensen in the eye, shook his hand and did the same with the DT coaching staff. It was classy as hell and in retrospect, I feel like a jackass for ever rioting against him without knowing him. Oh! And the guy he beat in a close match in the finals his Junior year in Iowa? None other than Sawyer Farris.

* Sawyer Farris won state as a Freshman and then placed 3-2-3 the following years. He had 3 losses total at state those final 3 years and they had a combined 9 state championships. Kinda crazy.

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In every “RTW” questionnaire that I send out, there is always a question or two about who their rivals were. Youth, HS, college, any level. And every time I see it, I get stumped trying to think of who would be classified as my own HS rivals. It’s pretty cut and dry who my youth rivals were. First rival ever was a kid named Jacob Hammond from Fort Madison. That lasted from 1st-6th grade. Then there was a kid named Nate Burden from New London who I split multiple wins with in 3rd grade. In 4th grade, I met Shea Stamp from Lisbon for the first time, first round at districts. He was for sure, one of my biggest rivals I had in my entire career. We met up from 4th-8th grade. My biggest youth rival is a guy who probably doesn’t even remember me, for he never remembered me when we were kids either. Probably because he blocked me out of his memory because I annoyed the snot out of him in the same manner Donkey annoys Shrek. His name was Matt Vasey from DM Lincoln. He was my rival because we met at least 5-6 times, all at either USA or AAU State. Man, was he a good wrestler.

When I think about my HS career, I have a more difficult time thinking of people who meet what I would consider to be the general criteria for what a rival entails. To me, in order for a pair of wrestlers to be considered rivals, they must have met multiple times, split wins, had results or outcomes that stuck with them for one reason or another and generally met up when the stakes were high. I mean, there was Adam Reid from Fort Madison, but things were lopsided in his favor. I want to say that he beat me 5 times compared to my 2 wins over him… and he won all 3 Folkstyle matches. Our matches were pretty close, though. Same with Joe Storm… I beat him twice in 8th grade, but that loses all significance when you consider that he beat me in 2 crazy-intense matches our Senior year. The Dubuque Senior duo of Nathan Specht and Matt Davis were rivals of mine that spanned from 4th grade all the way until my Sophomore year in college with Specht. Matt and I had to have met 10 times, splitting 5-5 or so. Nathan and I met 5 times, with him winning one, which was our Senior season at the Manchester West Delaware Freestyle tournament, in which I placed 3rd…behind Matt Davis and Nathan Specht. What a duo those two were. Out of my 4 wins vs. Specht, a couple of them were undeniably flukey. 

There are two guys who I would consider to be my rivals in HS.These guys fit the criteria, cut and dry. One of them was Ryan Hagerty from Muscatine who I later became practice partners with at Loras College. The other was Clay Eaton from Washington.

First time I ran into Clay was at a tournament at Washington. It was my Sophomore, his Freshman season. I won a back and forth match by the score of 7-6. There were a lot of people watching that match and cheering Clay on, for that was his home crowd. That day always stuck out to me, for I met a girl who ended up becoming my girlfriend of a couple years that day. She may have been the only person in the building besides Drain and my exchange student that was actually was rooting for me, and not avidly rooting for Clay. Mepo wasn’t exactly a very well-liked squad to begin with, add to it, the fact that Clay seems very well-liked in his home gym and yeah. I wasn’t very popular that day… or the next time that I wrestled him a year later, which was also in Washington. But the stakes were higher with this one… this was the finals at Sectionals and I was nearing the end of my most frustrating season that I ever had. In that match, I started out with a 4 point lead and lost in OT. He scored a TD in the last second of the 3rd period to send it to OT.  And holy cow did Clay ever have the crowd jacked up at the end of that one.  I gassed out, bad and after he scored a takedown, he let me up and as I struggled to find the energy to drag myself up to my feet, he slightly motioned towards me to “come on, let’s go!” The crowd went into a frenzy when he did that…  I was so exhausted at that point, that it felt like I was trying to wrestle while being underwater and after running a marathon.  You know how things sound when you are at the swimming pool and swim under water? You are under water, but can still hear the muffled screams and yelps and what-not outside the water? It sounded like that. The only thing I could easily decipher within the muffled screams was what my dad was screaming at me. That was clear as day. Everything else was like a nightmare. I could barely see Clay, for my vision was cloudy and the noise was foggy. And the moment I began dragging, the crowd got more and more into it.  That Washington fanbase has always been very supportive of their guys. Clay took me down in OT as if I were a wrestling dummy, hanging to the wall by a singlet thread. Just pushed me over, basically. That was the finals and I was ranked 10th in the state. Clay was not ranked at the time, so it was a big win for him and secured a preferable first round matchup for him.

A couple days later, my cousin sent me an article from the Washington local newspaper. At least I assume that’s what it was. In the article, the main match that was discussed at length was Clay Eaton vs. Joshua Swafford.  They interviewed Clay and his coach, Jay Huff about the match and they both made comments about how they both considered me to be a good wrestler, but knew that if he kept pushing, he would have a good opportunity to win the match, for I had a reputation for gassing out in matches.  My cousin showed me this article in an attempt to pump me up or piss me off, but it accomplished neither. They were in no way insulting me as a wrestler…in fact, they said I was good. And if they did not consider me to be a guy who had a tendency to “gas” in a match, then they probably were sleeping through my previous meetings with Washington wrestlers. Ya see, earlier on in the year, I lost two matches in the same day to the same guy at The Mediapolis Invitational and in both of these matches, I was winning by 10 or more points.  I lost one of these matches by points!!! These were both against Clay Eaton’s teammate, Jake Hotchkiss, who wrestled at the weight class above Clay which was 145 lbs. There was a lot going on that led to meltdown matches such as those and most of it, I didn’t understand, nor did anyone else.  It was around this time where I began having terrible anxiety-induced adrenaline dumps, where I literally felt like I couldn’t move after 3 minutes of wrestling. I can not put into words how frustrating this was, for I didn’t struggle at all to get through 2-hour long, hard practices without as much as taking a water fountain break the entire time.  I was in shape and I knew it, but would just die after 3 minutes. Everyone kept trying to diagnose me with asthma. It wasn’t asthma.  It was anxiety. That was in a time where the field of “sports psychology” was in its infancy stages. Washington guys were the last people on Earth you ever wanted to run into if you had these struggles. They were well-coached and their conditioning was second to none. The most well-conditioned HS team I have ever encountered or seen, to this day. Jay Huff was an AWESOME coach. Another thing that led to these episodes was the fact that I was cutting way too much weight to get to 145, let alone 140 where I cut down to collide with Clay. I came into the season weighing 170 lbs. and was pretty shredded on full-feed.  I literally starved myself for days on end to get to 145 lbs. and was likely close to jeopardizing my health permanently in cutting to 140 lbs.  It was the most idiotic decision I recall ever making in high school.  Cutting to 140 lbs. when I was already starving at 145, so I could be in a sectional and district bracket against Hotchkiss’s teammate who (and no offense intended to Hotchkiss) was a better wrestler than him.  Hotchkiss had one of the best motors I’ve ever heard of…but Eaton was the better, technically superior wrestler and he didn’t have too bad of a gas tank himself.  It would take a total moron to consider cutting to 140 lbs. a good idea. I was a total moron. I should have gone up to 152, not cut down a weight to wrestle more difficult competition. Dumb.  I perceived what Huff and Eaton said in that interview as the truth and a compliment…Because that’s what it was.

So districts arrived. Top 2 from Sectionals qualify for districts where they are paired with another Sectional. Top 2 there qualify for state. I was very familiar with the other guys in our bracket.  One of them was a very talented wrestler from Solon named Matt Kidwell. The guy who placed behind him at Sectionals was a guy who I felt that both Clay and I would have no struggles with.  We had several common opponents that year and it was one of those deals where guys that Clay and I were beating easily, were beating this guy badly.  I figured that it was a 3-way race between Kidwell, Clay and I.  I was wrong…and I never would have guessed that this would have been the case due to Clay freezing up. I figured it would have been me.  Clay lost his first match against a guy who I would have picked him to beat 9 times out of 10. And I lost to Kidwell first round, which set up a wrestle-back match between Clay and I.  We had another back and forth match and Clay won by a point or two. I was eliminated. Season over. Kidwell dominated the other guy in the finals, which meant that Clay did not get a wrestle-back either. We were both eliminated. He and I were both just utterly heartbroken and to this day, I think we were just as skilled as anyone there, but just couldn’t put it together at the right time.

After losing the wrestle-back to Clay, it was the most heartbroken I ever was after losing a wrestling match.  I sat out in the concourse with West Burlington and club teammate of mine, Freshman Chris Johnson who was also heartbroken because he fell short of qualifying for state that day. All I could do for what seemed like hours was just bawl…With an exception of Chris and my dad (who was very comforting to me that day), I didn’t speak to anyone or acknowledge what was going on around me for a long time. I just sat there, drowning in a pool of self-pity, confusion and indescribable frustration. I felt like I was in a “self-pity trance,” until I noticed an equally heartbroken Clay Eaton walk by me. He was followed by one of his coaches who was trying their best to get him to cheer up. I over-heard a portion of their talk before I decided to “tune out” and mind my own business.  But some of the stuff the coach was saying to Clay along with his responses reminded me a lot like the conversations that long-time Mepo Assistant Coach, Shawn Timmerman and I had with each other that entire season… in fact, he gave me a similar speech just minutes before that. Coach Timmerman was very important to me. You’ll hear more about him..  Every one of my coaches at Mepo were great and had a significant impact on my life, but Shawn spent a lot of time with me individually, which wasn’t an easy task, for coaching me was frustrating in itself.  When Clay walked by me again, he stopped to say something to me and still had tears in his eyes and said, “hey Swafford, keep your head up. You are a great wrestler. I wish it would have been us two going to state next week, but maybe next year, I guess. I’ll be rooting for you.” And he meant it. I could tell. It was the first time Clay and I ever spoke to each other.  I just kind of got myself out of my sobbing fit and nodded my head and thanked him.  When you think about the competition you face sometimes, it’s easy to consider them soley as inconveniences who are just in your way when you are trying to reach your goals. It is easy to dehumanize your competition as mere beings who don’t have thoughts or feelings of their own and serve only one purpose; to make your life a living hell and to crush your dreams.  This was one of those notable times in life where it was presented to me plainly and clearly…my opponent cared every bit as much about the outcome of his season as I did and his personal struggles were relatable to my own. It’s refreshing when you come to these realizations for if you have your dreams crushed, at least it was at the hands of someone who cared deeply about the same things and had the same dreams as you and it wasn’t just some forgettable “blip” in their life.  

Clay and I grew apart in weight the next year and I rooted for Clay any time I got the chance. After I won my quarterfinals match at state the next year, Jay Huff and Clay were a couple of the first people to congratulate me, along with Kidwell, ironically.  Clay is one of the toughest guys I wrestled in high school.  And he wasn’t a world-beating multi-state champion or anything. In fact, he qualified for state and did not place.  That never changed my opinion of him as a wrestler, though.  Clay Eaton achieved a lot in his career, but was talented enough to accomplish much more than he did.  He was right up there with everyone. I know this better than anyone, for I got him at his best.  If he would have been at his best every match and if things would have just worked out for him, he could have been a state champion.

Great guy.  You would think that the person who handed you the most heartbreaking loss of your career would provoke an array of negative feelings, but I don’t know how anyone could say or feel anything negative about the man unless they are just being irrational. In every conversation I have ever had with him, I have been treated with the utmost respect and I mean it when I say that it’s an honor to write this article on Clay Eaton. 

 

Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

My ability to lay a brick from anywhere on a basketball court. Went to Snow Valley basketball camp one summer and realized how bad I was. Went to wrestling camp later that same summer and never looked back.

 

Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?

I’m related to a bunch of Naigs from northwest Iowa who have added a lot more hardware to the family tree than I ever did! My son just wrestled at Super PeeWee State this past weekend!

(EDITOR’S NOTE: My younger brother, Justin wrestled one of these Naig’s from NW Iowa. Jacob Naig from Emmetsburg. Ironically, this is one of Justin’s biggest HS rivals for they split wins against each other… Justin defeated Jacob in the semis at state as a Freshman and Jacob defeated Justin in the finals at state the next year.  I never knew Eaton was related to the Naig’s until now. Crazy).

 

What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

I didn’t start until 7th grade. I made it somewhere low on the podium at AAU state in 8th grade.

 

What was your record in HS?

75 – 30? Not sure exactly, but not a ton of matches. Southeast Iowa was solid when we went through. Looking back I am surprised at how many quality matches we got in at small duals and tournaments in our area.

 

How did you place at state every year?

I didn’t. Qualified junior year. I got more out of wrestling than it ever got out of me!!

 

What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?

I missed most of my sophomore and junior season recovering from football injuries. Went to state junior year with less than 10 matches under my belt! It didn’t turn out well for my wrestling career, but over time it has helped shape me into the kind of man who is better qualified to help people find a way to give their best physically and mentally despite whatever challenges they are up against. I love underdogs!

 

How would you describe your wrestling style?

I was solid on my feet and I worked hard to have more gas in the tank than anyone I stepped on the mat with.

 

How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?

I didn’t have a lot of back and forth. You (Josh Swafford), pretty much. You and I had a good go at sectional and districts one year!

 

Who was your most influential coach?

Jay Huff was and still is a great coach. Chad Jensen, Mike Gaul, and Matt Hoover also helped to shape me and the rest of the guys I wrestled with into much tougher wrestlers than most would have guessed we could be!

 

Was your team competitive in HS/college?

Not really. Some solid guys, but not a solid line up in HS or college. First time I was part of a successful team was when I was coaching. I didn’t realize how much fun I was missing out on. Competing as a wrestling team is rewarding… winning is way more fun!

 

Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?

Mark Ironside. That guy had a motor. I worked hard just trying to be more like him.

 

Washington was THE most conditioned team that I ever wrestled… which was a nightmare for me having the adrenaline dumps I did, for I couldn’t coast at all… for you guys would come back from huge deficits if people tried taking half-measures on you. What was your workouts and training like at Washington?

We went hard! The staircase from the wrestling room in the basement to the top floor of the old high school had a lot of blood, sweat, and tears shed on it over the years!

 

Describe the crew you wrestled with at Central.

Great group of guys, worked hard, and had a lot of fun. Not tons of success as a team, but a number of the guys did turn out to be successful coaches.

 

Who are your favorite current wrestlers?

Alex Marinelli. The guy is tough on and off the mat.

 

What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

My senior year was the first season I didn’t have to deal with an injury. I was 35 – 2 with my only losses to Alex Grunder from Wilton and Nathan Van Dyke from South Tama heading into districts. I lost in the final seconds to Jacob Craig from Mount Vernon. That was a tough match and I didn’t end up qualifying that year.

 

If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?

I would take the pressure off, work hard, and just have fun wrestling. I worried too much about outcomes. As a coach, I loved working with kids who focused on the process and could shake off a loss and be ready for the next match.

 

What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?

My best wrestling memory was seeing the BIG smile on my son’s face the first time he got his hand raised on a wrestling mat. I love wrestling! Fun to see my kids get in on that same feeling.

 

Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?

I got to scrap with a number of solid guys in high school. To name a few… Nick Cole, Alex Grunder, Nathan Van Dyke, Justin Scott, Jeff Wiele, Rob Hoback, Eli Sanders, Andy Fry, Jacob Smith, TJ Bevans, Matt Kidwell & the one and only Josh Swafford :)!

In college I had the privilege to be a takedown dummy for a number of the Iowa Conferences finest wrestlers, HA! I remember Troy Fabry from UW-LaCrosse showing me that I had a lot to learn.

 

Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

Seasonal. I was involved in many other sports and activities.

 

How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?

The technique has changed over time, but they would certainly find a way to be competitive and would do just fine.

 

Did you wrestle after high school?

One year at Central. Sophomore year I took a semester of college in Wales and then started coaching when I got back.

 

What other sports did you play?

Almost all at some point in my life!

 

What are your favorite sports teams?

Hawks!

 

What are your hobbies other than wrestling?

Anything outdoors. I like to run, fish, and kayak when I can make some time.

 

How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

It has molded me to be the type of man who will find a way. I can keep a smile and a positive attitude in the face of adversity thanks to my faith and to the life skills this sport passes on!

 

What do you do now?

I teach Physical Education at Highland Elementary in Riverside, IA.

 

Are you still involved with wrestling?

I help with the youth program in Washington. My oldest son is in 2nd grade this year and loves it.

 

Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

Have faith! Have fun! Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it!

 

Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?

Will you have a 35+ division at the inaugural Rico Nationals?!?

 

Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?

Brent Van Weelden, Derick Ball, and Shawn Ellingson – Couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to coach with!

Fletcher Green – The kid worked his butt off in the practice room and was just enjoyable to be around. Can’t think of a more deserving guy to win a state title.

Chris James – I was an assistant for Coach James at Fountain – Fort Carson High School in Colorado. The guy got more out of kids than any teacher/coach I have ever been around. He had a knack for seeing the best in people and then drawing it out of them!

 

Do you have anything to add?

Thanks for all you do for our sport! Your passion for wrestling has always shown, as a competitor and now as a writer. Keep up the good work!

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With wrestling, I remember most all of my “firsts.”  I remember the first time I was made aware of the existence of wrestling.  This was from a framed picture of my dad wrestling at districts in ’78 as a Senior that he had hung up in his room when I was a kid.  I remember the first wrestling action I ever saw taking place…between my dad and uncle Brian Swafford and a guy from New London that they were working out with named Shane Arnold.  I remember the first HS varsity match I ever sat down and watched and with that said, at Mepo in the early 90’s, when Ryan Cummings took the mat, if you weren’t fully engaged, you didn’t have a pulse.  AND I remember the first wrestling match I ever saw on TV.  This was in my grandpa’s basement. My entire family grouped together to watch Iowa vs. Iowa State wrestle in a dual on IPTV.  My dad said that we were “rooting for The Hawkeyes, the black and yellow team.”  With that said, the first match I ever saw on TV was between Chad Zaputil of Iowa and Eric Akin Iowa State.  Chad Zaputil became my favorite wrestler of my entire youth from that point.  

I am usually pretty ambiguous in terms of my responses when someone asks me what my favorite college wrestling team is.  For one, my cousin married Lou Holtz’s son in the early 90’s, so I am a longtime Notre Dame Irish fan in football… and they don’t have wrestling. I always tell people that I root for the “originally from Iowa” guys from every team first and foremost and team-wise…I just leave it open.  I do have an irrational hatred towards one D1 team on the Eastern side of the nation, in which my disdain for them is something I can’t fully pinpoint.  All in all, though… if I said that I didn’t at least “lean” towards the Hawkeyes, I’d be lying to everyone including myself. I grew up watching them and Zaputil being my favorite wrestler of all time when I was a kid followed closely by Travis Fiser and the Brands brothers cements my affinity. I mean, you wouldn’t ever catch me rooting against Drew Foster, Randy Pugh, Jason Payne, the Moreno’s, the Paulson’s, Brandon Mason, Sean Stender, etc. because as mentioned, I root for the Iowa homers first. But let’s get real here… my own brother wrestled at UNI and the only college wrestling apparel I’ve probably ever been spotted with is Hawkeyes and Graceland gear. And Chad Zaputil is a huge reason for that. Out of everyone I have ever interacted with on here for these articles, sending and receiving emails to and from, etc. interacting with Chad Zaputil for this article is the one moment I’ve had so far where I felt….star-struck. Holy cow what a competitor he was.  The battles he had every year in the state finals were just incredible.  I mean, the man went from losing to Tom Brands in the finals as a Sophomore to beating Terry Brands in the finals as a Junior to beating Kent Streicher in OT in the finals his Senior year which was what ended up being the only loss Streicher ever suffered at the state tournament.

The first autograph I ever got from someone was from Chad Zaputil at The Mediapolis Invitational. He was there watching his brother, Chase.  The Mepo guy who used to wrestle Chad was a guy named Brian Gerst (helluva lateral drop) and he pointed him out to me.  He razzed me pretty good after getting Zaputil’s autograph, for apparently I had a real “mouth-breather” look to me when I was trying to get his attention. Apparently I appeared very nervous to approach him for that. Heck, the first time I ever cried to a sporting event on TV was after one of Zaputil’s NCAA finals matches… When he lost, I bawled. I was at one point in my life, a little kid sobbing at the outcome of one of Zaputil’s matches. Huge fan. This site was almost named after him. 

 

 

What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?

I wrestled in high school for Centerville High School in Centerville, IA. We were called the “Big Reds” I wrestled in college at the University of Iowa for Dan Gable… “Go Hawks!”

 

 

What year did you graduate?

Graduated high school in 1988 and college in 1993 (I redshirted my first year at Iowa).

 

 

Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

I did some wrestling and played basketball both a little kid. It was not until Jr High when I stuck to just wrestling. My junior high wrestling Coach was Stan Maddy and he had a big influence on that. I am not sure if he saw my wrestling abilities or just saw how short I was going to be but he got me headed in the direction of wrestling in a much bigger way, haha.

 

 

Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?

I am the oldest of 3 boys in my family so all the boys in my family wrestled. I think after I got into wrestling it was a natural progression for my brothers to follow. My younger Brother Justin was a tough wrestler but was behind some really tough guys for a lot of his time in high school and also had some injuries, then my youngest Brother Chase ended up being a 2X state champion in High School the same as I was…

 

 

What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

As I mentioned before I was not really into wrestling until junior high school age. I would maybe just do a little city tournament in Centerville before that time.

 

 

What was your record in HS? How did you place at state every year?

My record was 124 wins and 6 losses in high school (I think I remember that correctly). My Freshman year I qualified for state and did not place. My Sophomore year I placed 2nd and then my Junior and Senior years I won state.

 

 

What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?

I had a handful of injuries throughout my career in high school and college both. Some of which resulted in surgeries once the season was over. I think wrestling can be tough on your body at times. In hindsight, I really wish I had worked on my flexibility a little more and I think that may have helped at the time and in the long run.

 

 

How would you describe your wrestling style?

Probably more brawling and less technique, haha.

 

 

Who was your most influential coach?

I would have to say my most influential Coach was Dan Gable, but a LOT of coaches really influenced me throughout my career. Stan Maddy because he was my first real coach and who got me into wrestling. My high school coaches were Mike Halupnick and Russ Miller who both also had big influences on me. During that time Gary Wood was another coach that had a lot of influence on me as I worked with him a lot in the off season. And then in college there was always a lot of staff that helped me along the way as well as Gable… Brad Penrith and Jimmy Zalesky were a couple that helped me a lot.

 

Was your team competitive in HS/college?

In high school my Senior year our team won State. It was the first time any team out of our area of Southern Iowa had done that in wrestling so we were very proud of that fact. We had a good group of guys that worked hard and were always in great shape as well thanks to Coach Halupnick. I think we learned early a lot of matches are won in the 3rd period! In college I was there in 1991 through 1993 as a member of the varsity team and we won the National Championships as a team all 3 years.

 

Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?

I think like a LOT of Iowa kids growing up Dan Gable was the pinnacle of who you idolized as a wrestler and as a coach. He has mythic status in the sport. I set up 5 recruiting visits for schools to visit as that is the number of visits you were allowed. Iowa was my 4th recruiting visit. After my visit was over I signed with Iowa and cancelled my last visit. I knew where I wanted to go.

 

 

Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?

Gable and that goes for any level… I know a number of people are 4 x state champs and there are a lot of great current and younger wrestlers but it’s hard to not say Gable.

 

 

Who are your favorite current wrestlers?

There are always a lot of them but I think Spencer Lee is and will continue to be someone to watch.

 

 

What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?

We listened to all kinds of music when I was wrestling but to pump me up during workouts or before a match I liked to listen to rock… like AC/DC.

 

 

What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

For me losing in the finals 3X is the biggest thing to me. Not winning Nationals as a college wrestler was a tough pill to swallow. My Senior year would be the toughest one as that was end of my chances. Also because I had beat Sammy (Henson) before, so that didn’t help. I really felt like there were some great wrestlers that I competed against though. Many of whom went on to a lot of success on the World level after college.

 

 

If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?

Obviously I would have wanted to win an NCAA title, but the thing I would have had to change was potentially how I prepared for that. That’s too difficult of a question to answer in a couple of sentences…

 

 

What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?

The greatest thing about wrestling is what you learn from the sport. It is an incredible sport to build character, teach you to define goals and work towards them. The daily grind truly makes you a better and tougher person. I keep in touch with a lot of my teammates through out my whole career and what people take away from the sport is incredible. And I also think what is unique about it is, regardless of what lever of success you obtained, it generally teaches you the same things.

 

 

Who were some of your most notable competitors?

In college as I mentioned earlier I feel like there was a lot of talented guys I competed against. Eric Akin, Lou Roselli, Sammy Henson and Jeff Prescott just to name a few…

 

 

So you wrestled Kent Streicher and both Brands twins in the finals at state and it’s crazy to think about for I’ve rarely heard of 3 tougher finals matches for someone. What are your thoughts on that?

And we all became teammates at Iowa. I think that is a pretty cool fact and also it tells you how much we all wanted to wrestle for Gable!

 

Which match was your favorite? How did your game change from the time you wrestled Tom until you wrestled Terry the next year?

I don’t know if it changed so much but I knew a little more in what to expect or train for… we were from areas so far apart in Iowa it was not like we ever ran into each other during the year so I didnt know much of them until I wrestled Tom. I grew up near the Southern border of Iowa and they were from the Northern border of Iowa.

 

How did you, Terry and Tom develop as wrestlers at Iowa? Was it a quick transition for you guys?

I think the transition from high school to college is a pretty big one. You do see a few people that are able to do it with immediate success but honestly for most it is a pretty big transition just due the physical aspects of the age groups. Most people at that time anyway were red shirting your first year which gave you a little more transition time and you still would compete in open events.

 

 

Would you get more nervous for your own matches or Chase’s?

I think it is definitely harder to watch/coach then to get out there for me. Some of these coaches’ have to go through many times what you did once as the competitor. I really enjoyed watching my Brother Chase wrestle, but it is always tough to be in the stands during those tough match times, especially when you have also been there yourself.

 

 

Who have been some of your favorite coaches and wrestlers to go through Centerville?

When I was there we had a great group of guys that spent a lot of time together training during season and a number of us did a lot of freestyle wrestling and off season training as well. Rodney Griffing, Chuck Coulter, Brian Pierce, Mark Moorman, Troy Seeley, Kevin Cochran, Dwight Saylor… these were just a handful of the guys that were on the team and helped make our wrestling room tough in Centerville and helped win the state title in 1988.

 

 

Are you proud of your roots in Centerville?

Absolutely… I really liked being from Centerville. It was a great place to grow up.

 

 

Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

Once I was in high school I started wrestling year round. I still played football all through high school but other than that I started concentrating just on wrestling especially my last couple of years…

 

 

How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?

I think well but it’s always hard to compare athletes from different time periods!

 

 

Did you wrestle after high school?

I wrestled at the University of Iowa in college and then after that I helped run the Hawkeye Wrestling Club for a little while. I had been battling injuries for some time when I graduated college so I quit competing as an athlete after college.

 

 

What are your hobbies other than wrestling?

Riding motorcycles. I have been doing that since I was 6 years old.

 

 

How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?

The sport of wrestling is incredible. It’s an incredible teacher and also an incredible family. I can’t tell you how many times to this day my cauliflower ears strike up a conversation about “Did you wrestle? I wrestled too!” haha

 

 

How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

Wrestling does so much for people. It teaches you discipline, goal setting, mental and physical toughness. And the people involved are just generally good hard working people. I think as I get older I realize this more and more all the time

 

 

What do you do now?

I run my own construction company in Mobile, Alabama.

 

 

Are you still involved with wrestling?

Only as a spectator. When I was younger I use to work with some high schools and clubs and help MMA fighters train as well. But I rarely get on the mat any longer. Partially due to some old injuries and partially due to lack of time from running my business.

 

 

Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

I think one of the quotes from the documentary Competitor Supreme – Dan Gable said “It’s hard work that’s all it is…” or something like that in general, and it’s true. (I think one of the Brands Bros said it) Get in and put in the time. If you want to be good at wrestling there are no short cuts or magic recipes for success. Drill, train, and mentally prepare yourself for competition. Get to as many clinics, camps and expose yourself to as many coaches and athletes as possible!

 

 

Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?

NO… haha, maybe showing technique at a clinic is more my speed these days.

 

 

Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.

Wrestling is a great sport. If you are a competitor, train and give it all you can. Your time to compete is pretty short in relation to your live span so use it wisely. If you are a fan… support this incredible sport. In my home area Indian Hills Junior College has just picked up the sport! In this time where we are always fighting to save programs, this is big news. But all of us in this great big family of wrestling have to not only fight to save programs out there but get out there and support the programs we have! Get a group of young wrestlers and make it to these meets and events. Exposure is incredible and can make a big impact on young athletes!

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Remember The Wrestler: Mike Kammerer, Pleasant Valley

By Stephen Stonebraker 
I was about three rehearsals into 12 ANGRY MEN for Iowa City Community Theatre as the short tempered, chip on his shoulder juror #5.  The production was being directed by Kehry Anson Lane, with the assistance of Michael Kammerer as his unofficial Co-director.  I really enjoyed Mike a lot as he was keen to detail & had excellent suggestions to enhance a scene.  While Kehry was able to see the product as a whole, it was Mike who helped to fine tune the production.  

Over the years I’ve come to accept that while there are exceptions, athletics and the arts are usually on two different ends of the spectrum.  I’m used to being the anomaly in both worlds. The actor who wrestled or the wrestler who acts.  While a fellow actor in the cast ran track in high school, & some of the rest of the cast at least appreciated Hawkeye Football for what it was, I never dreamed in a million years that anyone else had a wrestling background.

That’s when Mike came up to me and shocked me with a question.  

“Hey Stephen, did you wrestle in high school?”  

I told him that I did and much to my surprise he responded that he did too.   Said he wrestled for Pleasant Valley.    

Being the history, research buff that I am, I went home and immediately researched Mike Kammerer.   When I had said to him earlier that day, “Yeah, but I wasn’t very good at it.” I meant it.   When he said back to me, “Yeah, I was ok.”  It was obvious to me that he was being very modest.  

My assistant director Mike Kammerer was very good in high school.  A three time State qualifier at the 3A level.  

It was then I began to realize why it was that I took to Mike as well as I did.  Why I responded to his direction as well as I did.  We were both former wrestlers & whether we realized it or not, there’s a language wrestlers speak that is best understood among themselves.  Maybe it didn’t work with the other actors as well as it did with me, but Mike’s way of treating the stage as a wrestling coach treated a practice room worked well for me.  

Mike is one of the most humble, modest people I’ve ever met in my life. Unless you asked him about it, you’d never know all of the many medals at various tournaments he earned during his career.  He racked up many victories during his time at Pleasant Valley, but he’d never brag about all the times he had his hand raised after a match.  Matter of fact when this article comes out, I can almost guarantee some of his friends will read it & respond in complete flabbergast…..

“Mike, you were a wrestler!?!?!”

“…..and you were good!?!?”

Yep!


1.) How did you get involved in wrestling?  What age were you when you started?
I believe I was around 4 years old when I started wrestling with the Clinton, IA club.  Both of my older brothers wrestled and my dad was our coach.  He and his brothers wrestled growing up in Camanche, IA.  So I was born into a wrestling family.  We went to tournaments every weekend during the season and traveled around the country competing in folkstyle, freestyle, and Greco-Roman.
2. Your older brother Cory was a very good wrestler taking sixth place honors at the 1992 Iowa High School State championships.  What was it like trying to live up to an older successful brother?
Both of my older brothers were good wrestlers and I looked up to them very much.  As kids, it seemed like they were always winning and I was always losing.  But something changed for me around 6th grade and things just started to click.  From then on, I mostly won.  I watched what worked for them and tried to copy.  Cory was really good at snap-downs and I saw how well they worked for him, plus I was never very good at taking shots, so I started doing them too.  I was stronger than most of the kids I wrestled so it worked out.  But it got me into trouble when I wrestled someone with upper body strength.  Jamie had a sweet ankle-pick, but I just couldn’t get that to work for me.
3. You qualified for State in 1995, 1996 & 1997 in some rather stacked district tournaments.  What was it like earning trips to state each of those seasons?
It was pretty great.  I expected myself to qualify those years and maybe even place.  I cut a lot of weight for wrestling partly to make sure I would get to State.  I wish I would have been able to get over my nerves at State.  I think I could have placed, but my nerves just got the best of me.  I was never quite myself at State.  That’s where having a tough mental game is key, and I let the pressure get to me.
4. During your senior season you were ranked as high as fifth.  Did rankings ever mean anything to you?  Did they motivate you or affect your performance?
Being ranked was a bit of a double edged sword for me.  It provided validation that I was good enough and let me know that my coaches had confidence in me (I know coaches have to fight for rankings).  But it also added pressure.  I tend to perform better when I know I’m the underdog.  So being ranked put a target on me for sure.

 

5. Pleasant Valley was rather good as a team during your time in high school. What did it mean to you to be on a team that challenged at the conference, district & state levels?

I feel very fortunate to have been part of such a winning team.  A lot of us wrestled together and as kids and this was the culmination of all that hard work.  In ‘94 I was a freshman and my brother Cory was a senior.  We got 3rd at Dual Team State.  That was pretty awesome to be able to share with my brother.  In ’95 we won Dual Team State.  In ’97 we got 3rd at State and won Dual Team State.

 

 

6. Your senior year you won the Joshua Fullner Memorial Scholarship. What does that award mean to you?
Josh Fullner was a wrestler at my high school who unfortunately passed away one week after graduation in 1989.  A scholarship was set up in his name and given to a PV senior each year.  I really wanted to win that scholarship and was pretty excited and frankly honored to have been chosen.  I’d like to send a big thanks to his family for setting up the fund to help students with the cost of college.
7. You helped direct Iowa City Community Theatre’s 12 ANGRY MEN back in 2011.  Although worlds apart do you see any similarities between wrestling & theatre?  Did you use any strategies or techniques from your wrestling coaches in helping to direct the cast?
What’s great about wrestling is that it has both the individual and team component.  Wrestling teaches you how to be part of a team.  I never felt like my match was just about me.  I didn’t want to let me team and coaches down.  I’m not near as proficient in the world of theatre, but there are similar elements.  As an actor, you are responsible for your individual performance, and that is just one contribution of the entire production.  Directing theatre is sort of like coaching.  You have to guide the actors/wrestlers to perform their best under pressure.  And don’t forget to have fun while doing it.

 

8. How do you feel the sport of wrestling helped to shape your life? How has wrestling helped to make Mike Kammerer into the person he is today?
Wrestling taught me never to give up.  It is a very hard sport and demands a lot physically and mentally.  It teaches you what you are capable of.  For me, the mental aspect of wrestling was always the toughest.  You have to be able to control your emotions and fight through stressful situations.  Those are skills I will take with me throughout my life.
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Remember The Wrestler: Clark Yoder, Sigourney Savages

Most wrestling fans throughout the state of Iowa have heard the name of Clark Yoder. His name is synonymous with the phrase ‘Savage Wrestling’, along with his great Coach Jack Smith, who built the Sigourney wrestling program from the ground up back in 1963, and it thrived on his values of humility, respect, and some very serious hard-nosed wrestling. Clark was a youngster that grew up in a community that had great pride and support for their school and sports programs, and if you went to school at Sigourney, sports were a big part of your everyday culture.

When I recently talked with Clark about the Sigourney program, his wrestling career, and how he got started in wrestling. He told me – “as a little kid in 3rd or 4th grade I already knew what I wanted to be, I wanted to be a ‘Savage’ wrestler!” And boy was he ever!  Not only that he had visions of being a state champion, a national champion, and winning an Olympic gold medal!

I found that statement quite illuminating because it reveals his intense drive to achieve at such a young age and his comments instantly took me back to my early days of sports and reminded me that all I wanted to be at that age was a ML baseball player… that’s all I dreamed of, so I could relate to that pure and simplistic vision of the future.  It was so focused, and it seemed that even at that young age he knew who he was and what he wanted to do. For me baseball was so easy to dream about because my whole family loved baseball, my Grandpa played semipro ball into his forties and was the last preseason cut in 1932 by the Pittsburgh Pirates and his influence along with my Dad’s was immense, that’s all I thought about because I wanted to be the best… I could see myself and envision every pitch, swing, and play.

That’s the picture Clark painted in my mind of how he saw his future as a Sigourney Savage wrestler. It was clear as day and in full detail. I have to admit, I smiled with boyhood joy listening to him talk about what it was like growing up and wrestling at Sigourney High School. His folks were not well off. They scrimped and saved so that they could support their boys’ dreams and his father volunteered and helped whenever and wherever he could to keep them wrestling. His Dad started the Sigourney kids wrestling tournament, and of course, was a huge influence in his life.  Clark said, “What I remember growing up was the crowds, the bleachers were always packed for sporting events, and it didn’t matter which sport. We took pride in the fact that we had the biggest practice room around!” That’s because their practice room was the entire HS gymnasium… and he laughed about coming to winter practices because the wrestling mats were rolled up against the cold walls and frost could be found on them as they were unrolled for workouts and the mats stayed stiff till things warmed up enough in the gym.

Because we are both products of the 70’s, I’m always curious about what someone’s first car was, because we grew up in the tail end of the ‘muscle car’ era. It’s one of those nostalgic things of Americana in the nation’s heartland that stands out during those years. Mine was a 1964 four door Chevy Impala my twin brother and I shared, till the summer before our senior year, where we got introduced to a 1970 Olds Cutlass Supreme with the 350 Rocket under the hood. I couldn’t wait to hear about what kids were driving in Sigourney during those years. 

Instead, I was humbled by Clark’s response… because he said that he really didn’t think about it. Cars just weren’t that important because he could always find a ride with someone to get where he was going… and he was always going to the gym to wrestle.

What he focused on was getting his hands on two 8mm tapes of Russian wrestling techniques that he wanted badly. He saved and scraped till he could afford to purchase them. That was what was important to him in those early years, and he said he spent countless hours watching those videos, breaking them down, learning and working on incorporating what was useful. We laughed on the phone when he said, “Yeah I was kind of an odd kid!”

It instantly gave me an understanding for why he was so dominant at such a young age and the contrast in his material views – his priorities and willingness to make personal sacrifices, he was relentless and passionate about achieving his dreams.

One of the things that I found interesting from our conversation was the fact that Sigourney’s Coach Smith did not allow his wrestlers to attach any wrestling medals they had won onto their letter jackets… Now that I think back about it, that was one of the ways you noticed who the really good kids were when their letter jackets were covered with hardware and you could hear them coming from half a block away. Kinda tricky! 

It was one of those values his coach instilled in his wrestlers about humility, and that what you wore on your letter jacket didn’t help you one iota on the wrestling mat!

He stated that Sigourney wrestling was already a force when he started wrestling (see Remember The Wrestling Coach: Larry Bird, Little Savage Wrestling Club – Sigourney article)… and they had great kids in the wrestling room, with the Snakenberg’s, McLaughlin’s, Lippard’s, Hammes’s and others, so quality practice partners were not hard to find. Coach Smith drilled into them the concepts of hard work and being disciplined, and even though wrestling at its core is an individualistic sport, each member played an important role in a team just as a family does, so it provided accountability to and for each other.

When you stepped out on the mat against a Sigourney Savage, you felt like you were wrestling against not just a single opponent… but a full team, and the full support of a Savage fan base.

And I’m telling you – I’ve felt it too!  In some big matchups, their fans used to line up along the barricading rope lines like at Vets Auditorium and were so close you felt like they could almost reach out and grab you! They weren’t wild and crazy, or hostile for that matter, but they were really passionate and made their presence felt.

Full disclosure – my family has history with Clark Yoder, specifically, he beat up on my 2 brothers!

With that piece of information out of the way, let me describe my experiences with Sigourney Savages as it pertains to this RTW subject. I’m not going to go into much detail because my brothers have their own stories to tell and it would make this segment lose the focus and attention it deserves for Clark to tell us his own story and his life experiences… So let me begin with some story context as it relates to Sigourney wrestling and specifically to Clark Yoder.

I was first introduced to “Savage” wrestling at the Van Buren Invitational my sophomore year of HS in 1975 where I did not place, having lost my first round match to a ‘Savage wrestler’ named Dennis McLaughlin at the 119 weight class, who went on to finish 2nd to home town champion – Tim DeHart of Van Buren.  It wasn’t exactly the experience I was hoping for in my 3rd varsity match and 1st tournament, but as the saying goes, ‘you gotta get your feet wet sometime’ and wrestling is a sport that you don’t just stick your toe in to test the temperature… you get tossed in the deep end and learn to swim!

What it did give me was a glimpse and appreciation into what it took to compete at a higher level against some kids that really liked to bring it, and brother, did those Sigourney Savages bring it!

While wrestling at Mediapolis in the 70’s, we battled them twice a year in tournaments starting in 1973. The first time at the prestigious Van Buren Invitational, this was billed back then as “the Wrestling Classic of Southeast Iowa”, and again 2 weeks later at the Pekin Invitational.

That 1977 Sigourney team was especially powerful as they landed 11 wrestlers in the finals out of the 12 total weight classes!  And that’s when Clark Yoder exploded on the wrestling scene. Those Savages took home 8 top of the podium gold’s out of those 11 finals matches they participated in, including Clark winning at 119 as a freshman by fall over my senior twin brother Brian, who was the top seed and defending tournament champion at that weight in 1976!

I’m telling you the whole auditorium (minus the Sigourney fans who were in ecstasy), were stunned… me included. Yeah – Clark Yoder’s name from that moment on, as far as anyone else was concerned, became synonymous with WINNING!   

He followed that performance up 2 weeks later, beating Brian again in the finals of the Pekin Invitational in a high scoring match something like 12-10. Those would be Brian’s only 2 losses going into state that year. Clark also qualified for state as the only freshman in 2A at a stacked 119 lbs class. Both kids qualifying with 25-2 records.

Clark entered the 1978 season as one of the top kids in the state moving up to the 126 class. This time Mediapolis was going to see Sigourney 3 times in tournaments (the same 2 as before but Sigourney moved into our 2A district), so we were going to meet up where things mattered most, and that year only the top 2 from each district would qualify for state. My younger brother Mark was wrestling at 126 for his senior year and that news really put a damper on his enthusiasm… just saying!

It wasn’t all that bad, as the Swafford brother’s had a plan… Mark’s goal for that season was he wanted to qualify for state, once there anything could happen, but you had to get there to do any damage. You know the old joke about the 2 hikers that come upon a bear in their path and one drops down to one knee, reaches into his backpack and starts putting on his track shoes, to which the other hiker just stares and says “There’s no way you’re going to out run that bear.” The kneeling hiker stands up and replies, “I don’t have to out run that bear, I just have to out run you!”  Well sometimes there’s a little bit of truth in humor as that’s exactly what the strategy was… Mark was going to give everything he had, but in reality he just had to beat everyone else not named Clark Yoder to make it to state. 

True story… and it worked out! Mark managed to achieve his goal of qualifying for state and Clark Yoder went on to achieve his by winning the first of his 3 straight state championships!  

Clark had an impact on our family, whether he was aware of it or not.

Firstly, we absolutely hated to lose, and it was just our nature to ‘keep score’ if you know what I mean… things weren’t settled at least at that point for Brian by a long shot. Secondly, Clark was an amazingly humble and respectful kid who reached down after pinning my twin in that first match and offered his hand to help pull him up off the mat… There was a sense that he recognized the battle was over and he was like a medic out there tending to the wounded. He carried himself differently too, there was none of that ‘swag’ or chest puffing and stink-eye lame intimidation about him at all. He simply looked up and made a quick gesture to the heavens.  It was the first time I remember a kid doing that at any sporting event, but so common now many don’t even think about it.

After Brian’s second loss to Clark in the Pekin Invitational – which was a WAR… Brian told me that he talked to Clark afterwards; he said that all Clark wanted to talk about was how God had helped him and gave him strength.  To cut to the chase here… those battles and interaction with Clark Yoder had a huge impact on my brother, and were defining moments in turning his focus and life towards ministry and Christianity – back then Brian called it his Saul moment on the road to Damascus. It had a domino effect in our family.

My family is close-knit and we love get-togethers and holidays and reunions, and sports have always been a big part of our lives. And I try to stay in touch with what’s going on with wrestling in Iowa, but mostly I listen because I want to hear what’s going on with kids today, like with my nephews. It’s almost inevitable that at some point the conversations would drift back to the good ‘ol days when we were wrestling, etc… and if the subject of – who was the best or toughest wrestler pound-for-pound that any of us wrestled, Clark Yoder’s name ALWAYS comes up at the top of the list!  Call us biased, but both Brian and Mark can give direct first hand testimony of their opinion. Just like anyone else that wrestled Clark Yoder. 

Watching his amazing career, watching him at state winning his 2nd state title all taped up with that shoulder injury was phenomenal… appreciating his efforts, his toughness, his determination and his drive for excellence in wanting to be the best wrestler was tremendously inspiring to those in my era.

It’s been 40 years since Clark Yoder won his 3rd state title, and he’s moved on and lived an amazing life.  He’s a decorated combat veteran that served his country honorably following a shortened college career.  He’s a very private person and family oriented. When we talked about this upcoming RTW article he was very open about what was important to him, and what matters is what’s here and now… as he mentioned that he’s kind of put the spotlight of his own wrestling career behind him. Sees himself as just another guy – not some wrestling folk-hero, and does not seek or desire any glory regarding his past wrestling exploits. That’s way outside his comfort zone for other’s to view him any other way than his current normal life. I totally get that… and I see those qualities as the same ones that arguably made him stand out among so great many others.

My goal in writing this RTW – “feature” interview was to introduce one of the great Iowan stories to a new generation of wrestling fans and to highlight someone who is an Iowa legend in wrestling and draw attention to one of the great wrestling programs of the 1970’s and beyond. I hope I’ve done that…

Wrestling fans… Here’s Iowa wrestling Hall of Famer Clark Yoder!   

Our family’s (8) High School State Wrestling Champs: Ross Yoder -1, Aden Reeves -2, Clark Yoder -3, and Tim Kephart -2

Clark with wife Jean and his sons Gabe and Josh…

 

What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?

Sigourney High School, UNI, All-Army Wrestling. On a different note, my father was instrumental in starting the Sigourney kids wrestling tournament along with the Kiwanis club.

 

What year did you graduate?

1980

 

Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

Older brothers, Dan Gable stories, Dad. My dad was very supportive and helped get the kids program and tournaments going. John Snakenberg (brother of George Snakenberg) coached the kids program and had success at the college level as well… My sister Vivian, read the Dan Gable book to me as I did push-ups as a youngster. Also Paul Graham, the first two time state champ from Sigourney.

 

Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?

Brother – Greg wrestled for Sigourney; Brother – Ross (State Champ at 145 in 1978); Cousin Andy Bales (Place winner in Nevada); Cousins – Scott Kephart (4th Place winner); Tim Kephart was 2 time Missouri HS Champion and two time 3rd placer, wrestled at Mizzou; Sons – Gabe wrestled for Mid Prairie 1 year, Josh who wrestled at MP and Sigourney was a state qualifier in high school and Jr High state champ. Aden Reeves (2 time IHSAA champ, freestyle and Greco national place winner, currently at ISU).

 

What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

Started wrestling kids in tourneys in 5th grade, did pretty well, and did not keep records.

 

What was your record in HS?

I believe it was 112-4.  Lost 3 times as a freshman, 1 time sophomore and was undefeated junior, senior years.  I lost twice to Jim Lord (Lisbon), once to Pat Vogel (Benton Community, Van Horne), once to Dave Lott (Denver)… all previous or future state champs.

 

How did you place at state every year?

Qualified as FR, lost first round (no wrestle backs in those days). Won state SO, JR, and SR years (1978, 1979, 1980).

 

What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?

I had a lot of injuries which were difficult to deal with.  Setting out of competition was not in my nature.  I did not have a very good college experience, which led to me joining the Army.

 

How would you describe your wrestling style?

Aggressive… I had a saying that I would always repeat: “Tough, Tight, Mean, Russian”.  To me it meant, ‘Tough’ – stay aggressive, always try and score more points.  ‘Tight’ – stay in contact, keep the pressure on all the time.  ‘Mean’ – (not dirty) just hard -nosed wrestling, drive through the opponents best, like driving through a hard crossface and never let them see you give up.  ‘Russian’ – at the time I felt that the Russians were the best technical wrestlers, greatest drilling and precise techniques.

 

How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?

The one that comes to mind was Vogel from Benton Community (Van Horne).  He beat me 5-0 at the Belle Plaine tourney at the beginning of my freshman year.  Late in the match I was riding too high and hung my head over too far and he did a reach back headlock for a 5 point move.  I later defeated him in sectionals and district finals.  He went on to win 3 or 4 overtime matches at state to win a championship at 119.  Just an awesome performance, well deserved.  I lost by 2 points to Dave Lott (Denver) in the first round – there were no wrestle backs then so… done!

 

Who was your most influential coach?  And can you expand on how they inspired you?

Jack Smith – Hall of Fame Coach, Sigourney High School.  Coach Smith was very disciplined in his approach to coaching wrestling.  His word was law and it did not matter if you were on the third string or a state champ you followed his lead.  He was all about the basics and we drilled the same moves each and every practice.  Switch, re-switch, re-switch step over, step over kick over roll.  Sitout, turn in, turn out, stand up, roll, standing switch, etc, etc, etc… And we got about one opportunity to “PICK IT UP” when warming up or drilling, OR he would blow his whistle and yell – “ROLL EM UP” and we would run sprints.  We learned discipline and drive and also faith.  “6 minutes and maybe more with the help of MISTER MAN, let’s go!”  He also taught us to be humble, we were not allowed to wear medals on our jackets.  “If you’re good, they will know it”.  Lots and lots of stories about Coach Jack Smith.  He will always have my respect, and love!

 

Was your team competitive in HS/college?

We had an awesome team and community support.  We had 2nd and 3rd place team trophies and many place winners.

 

Describe “Savage” wrestling at Sigourney and the community pride in their sports programs?

We worked hard, wrestled hard and had super community support.  We expected to win and most of the time did.  Just saying, I’m very proud of all the savage wrestlers.  The gyms were always full and the crowd at times were deafening.  Having said that, if it started to go to our heads, there was Coach Smith to bring us back down.  Some of our hardest practices came after one sided wins.

 

Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?

Oldest brother Greg (Savage wrestler – 1971 Grad); John Snakenberg (started working with the kids program), and without a doubt – Pat Greene (Big 10 placer at Iowa).  Pat would come to my house and beat on me from 7th grade through my senior year.  He was absolutely awesome at scrambling and mat work.  I could get in on his legs but rarely scored in six years.  He would grind me into the mat, turning one way then another.  I learned so much from Pat.  He literally was a large part of my success in high school.  Lots of times Pat would wrestle me into the mat for 2 hours and when he would go, I could hardly drag myself upstairs.  Man did I learn a lot from those workouts!

 

You won 3 state titles from 1978-1980.  Which one was the most gratifying and which one was the hardest to achieve?

The first one in 1978 was super awesome because my brother Ross also won that night.  The 1979 championship was hard because I had some injuries and I kind of let the pressure of repeating get to me.  George had made it to the finals but took 2nd, so a little rough.  Then as a senior, George and I won so that was great also.

 

Your older brother Ross also won a state title along with you in 1978… what was that like for you and your family and team to achieve that together?

My folks and entire family was Soooooo Proud, it’s hard to put into words!  It will always be with us.  It was a big night for Savage wrestling, we got an escort home and the mayor declared Ross and Clark Yoder Day!  Hahaha kinda funny now.

 

Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?

So many greats during my time, the Zelesky’s, Barry Davis (good friend of mine)… Just hard to say.  Maybe it’s that unknown wrestler who got up every day, trained, competed without great success, but kept it up and learned life lessons that carried him through tough times.

 

Who are your favorite current wrestlers?

Aden Reeves ISU (I’m biased, he’s my cousin).

 

What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?

Queen, Boston, Aerosmith.

 

What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

Freshman year first round at state… Definitely!

 

If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?

Not take it like it was life and death so much.  Relax a bit, and listen to my body to avoid some of the injuries.  Maybe change the outcomes of 4 high school matches. LOL

 

What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?

Just the comradery of team and wrestlers in general.  It always makes interesting conversation when you meet someone who has wrestling stories, no matter where they come from.  It was really great winning state championships with Ross and George Snakenberg.  Winning Central National Freestyle Championship and placing third at Junior Nationals Freestyle as a junior (was sick with mono and did not compete as a senior).

 

Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?

Teammates.  I worked out with everybody in practice from 98 lbs up to Hwt.  Some great battles took place there.  Also I was visiting my oldest brother in Tulsa, OK during the summer of 8th grade and freshman year and found out that there was a local freestyle tourney, so my family signed me up.  I wrestled in a pair of my brother’s tennis shoes (several sizes too big) and a pair of gym shorts.  What a sight!  I ended up wrestling Kenny Monday.  Not a great match for me, I lost 8-2.  I think back and have to laugh at what they thought of how I competed… Hahaha

 

Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

I wrestled year round, traveled a lot with summer freestyle.

 

How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?

I think today’s wrestlers may be better on the feet, but we were better at mat wrestling.  Particularly on bottom.  We practiced getting off our backs every day, and today there are lots more pins.

 

Did you wrestle after high school?

I went to UNI for 1.5 years but did not produce.  I also wrestled in the Army in Europe and on the All-Army Team.  I was transferred from the 82nd airborne to a security job in Germany, and while there on the spur of the moment wrestled in a qualifying tourney and won.  So I was able to wrestle in the European Army Wrestling Championships and won both the Freestyle and Greco Roman at 149 Lbs.  By doing that I was sent to West Point Military Academy and wrestled on the All-Army Team.  All this after being a combat vet from the invasion of Granada.  Airborne infantry was hard on the body…

 

What other sports did you play?

I ran cross country my fresh and soph years.

 

What are your favorite sports teams?

Cards and Cubs.

 

What are your hobbies other than wrestling?

Martial arts, reading books, all things wine (I’m a Doppel member of Wine Century Club, meaning I have sampled over 200 grape varieties of wine).

 

How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

It’s made me mentally tougher and physically stronger.  The training I did has carried me through some really difficult times in my life.

 

What do you do now?

I’m a Respiratory Therapist at the University of Iowa Hospitals working in the Bronchoscopy lab

 

Are you still involved with wrestling?

Just a spectator.

 

Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

Same quote from Paul Martin, (Algona, I believe) – “Stay tough and never say die”.  The mind fails first, strengthen your mind and you will pull your body along.

 

How would you like to be remembered?

As a tough wrestler who worked hard, had some success and loved the sport of wrestling.

 

Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?

Thanks to my opponents, fans and teammates.

 

Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.

Lots of funny stories and a few sad ones.  A funny story from when I was a Freshman.  Ross and I had gone to a basketball game at the high school the night before a meet so that we could check our weight.  We were supposed to be home by 9pm per team rules and we stayed a little too long at the game and as it happened Coach called our home to check up on us.  We were not home on time and had to pay the price for breaking curfew – which consisted of running a number of sprints after school.  I was mad about it and complaining to Mom that I may just quit.  Mom had read the Dan Gable book and had decided to use a little of the Gable psychology.  She said – “Go ahead and quit ya wussy!” (at least it sounded like that).  It worked, I went and got dressed and did another workout that night.  I kept my mouth shut after that and made sure I made curfew from then on.  Everything has a price.

A good time to end this interview and my wrestling career is where it started.

My Dad was a great guy, of all things he was a basketball player for Ollie High School, now part of Pekin of Packwood in southeast Iowa (what a rivalry, stories for another time).  They didn’t have wrestling back then, but at 5ft 5in, I’m sure he would’ve been a terror.  Dad supported us kids and when my older brother Greg went out for football and then wrestling, Dad was behind him. (Sorry Dad)…  We went to all Greg’s meets and cheered him on.

This is where I first met one of my best friends – George Snakenberg.  As such things go, George’s brother John (who worked with youth wrestling in Sigourney) also worked with my Dad doing construction.  Anyway, Dad was instrumental in starting the Sigourney kids wrestling tourney.

I remember sitting with Dad in between sessions at the Van Buren Invitational in Keosauqua in the lunch room and nearly freaking out as an 8th grader wanting to get on the mat.  “Easy son”… he said, “your time will come.”  Fast forward to 1984, I was an infantry combat vet, had been in a firefight that was close to being hit and was home within 1 week of that happening on leave getting ready to go to Germany.  Dad (a Korean War vet), had kept me together… As fate would have it, I got back into wrestling over there and it stirred the desire back into me.  I had walked away and felt I wanted nothing to do with wrestling again.  While at West Point on the All-Army Team, I wrestled in the Olympic team qualifying tourney at the New York Athletic Club and wrestled well but did not qualify.  By the way, a buddy of mine, Barry Davis, made the team.

While training at West Point, I received word that my Dad was gravely ill with a brain tumor.  Crushed… I left the All-Army Team and was given a compassionate reassignment to Iowa City recruiting station.  At the time, everything came crashing in on me.  The thought that I should continue to train for wrestling to follow a dream was broken and would never be realized.  I will not go into all the thoughts going through my head, suffice it to say I was confused and emotionally overwhelmed.  At any rate, I was able to spend the last few months of my Dad’s life with him and decided not to return to competition.

So that’s my story folks… Started with my Dad and ended there.  It was a great ride…!!!

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How Close Were The 3 Timers To Winning 4?! PART 1

This will be a new series. What I am going to do is in every one of these, I will select 5 random 3X state champions and chronicle, to the best of my knowledge, what happened to them in the one year that they did not win state… I hope to cover every one of them by the time that I’m through unless I have a pretty good idea that a person doesn’t want to be reminded of it.

 

Brock Rathbun, Center Point-Urbana, 2016:

Brock won 3 titles as a Sophomore, Junior and Senior.  He placed 2nd as a Freshman to Junior, Patrick Woods of Manchester-West Delaware. Woods pinned Rathbun fairly quickly in that match, but Rathbun proved the next year as a Sophomore that not only did he belong in the finals, but he belonged in there with Woods, for he defeated him 1-2 times during the season and defeated him again in the quarterfinals at state as a Sophomore on his way to winning his 1st state championship.

 

Ryan Leisure, Clear Lake, 2017:

Ryan won 3 titles as a Sophomore, Junior and Senior and did so in rather dominant fashion.  The closest he got to losing at state in his last 3 years was in his finals match his Junior year against Wyatt Thompson from Creston.  In that match, Leisure infamously spladled Thompson in OT and pinned him.  Leisure was a funny dude and had epic celebrations. I miss having him around.  Oh yeah, the only time he didn’t win state was his Freshman year.  He finished 2nd to Brock Rathbun that year.

 

 

Ryan Morningstar, Lisbon, 2005:

Morningstar won 3 titles as a Sophomore, Junior and Senior. Out of everyone that I have written about or covered, he seems to be the biggest fan-favorite of his age group. Everyone around his age and younger seems to really look up to him and/or considered him to be an inspiration for their own careers.  His dad, Scott Morningstar won 4 state titles. How crazy is that? A father and son combo with 7 total state championships.  Nuts!  The only year Morningstar did not win state was his Freshman year in which he was in that bracket that Senior Mario Galanakis was the favorite to win, but was upset by Freshman, Chad Beatty.  Morningstar was defeated by Galanakis for 3rd and 4th that year. I want to say that it was Justin Bohlke from Kingsley-Pierson who put him on the backside, but I could be wrong.  Bohlke won that bracket that year, though.

 

 

Travis Paulson, Lewis Central, 2002: 

Travis is one half of the infamous Paulson twins, the other one being Trent. Travis won state as a Freshman, Junior and Senior.  He defeated the defending state champion, Brian Hessenius from Le Mars to win his first state title as a Freshman, which was a huge feat.  The only year he didn’t win state was his Sophomore year in which he placed 5th, I believe. I don’t recall who beat him in the consolation semifinals, but I know that the guy to put him on the back side was Cory Connell from IC High who defeated Travis by a score of 1-0.

 

 

Cullan Schriever, Mason City, 2020:

Cullan is one of the most technically sound wrestlers to ever come through the state of Iowa, IMO. One of the greatest to grace the mat in our state.  He won state titles as a Freshman, Sophomore and Senior.  He beat Drake Ayala from Fort Dodge in the finals his Sophomore season and if time sorts things the way I believe they will, that will go down as one of the best combinations of talent when you combine state champs with their runner-up counterparts.  Cullan was injured in the semifinals at state his Junior season and had to settle for 6th place.  I consider him to be as good as anyone who has ever wrestled in this state.

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I can be a pretty creative and imaginative guy for the most part, I think. With that said, I can list about 576 billion things that would be classified as a more pleasurable experience than wrestling Keith Pearl. That’s not because I am a creative and imaginative guy… it’s because there literally are AT LEAST 576 billion things that are more pleasant than wrestling against Keith Pearl. It really doesn’t take much creativity to come up with 576 billion of those… Heck, I bet the lead singer from Nickelback could pull it off.  Just watch Keith Pearl wrestle for a few seconds and boom, 576 billion things, right away.  When it comes to Keith, I had to go above and beyond to prove my creative and imaginative ways.  Like designing a headgear to be custom-made for the sole purpose of preventing concussions in case I ever wrestled Pearl and did what I did best against him…got KO’d.  

Keith Pearl was a West Liberty Comet… A comet is defined as a celestial body moving about the sun, usually in a highly eccentric orbit, consisting of a central mass surrounded by an envelope of dust and gas that may form a tail that streams away from the sun. And when a comet collides with something, say a planet, there are physical consequences. To put it lightly, things get destroyed by the comet. Now, there have been several West Liberty wrestlers in which, the word, “comet” is fitting, but I don’t think it can be more fitting than it is for Keith Pearl. The guy was ruthless. He was like a battering ram. Or more fitting, he was like one of those animal rams that butt heads with each other in an effort to display and maintain dominance over the other lowly rams who can’t keep up.  You think I’m exaggerating? I’m not. I wrestled Keith Pearl 4 times my 7th grade year… I got knocked cold in 2 of those meetings. Seriously KO’d… it’s probably why I am such a spaz today! And how’d this happen? Well, it wasn’t because Keith was a dirty wrestler, at all… both times this happened as a result of of both of us shooting in on each other at precisely the same time and we bonked heads. The incredible force of impact was enough to literally knock me out cold…twice. What did it do to Pearl? Haha, well, in the depths of my subconscious, I am able to pull vague memories of laying down on the mat like a sloth and looking at the rafters while Keith continued to pace around the mat and pound his own chest as if he were ticked off that I deemed myself worthy enough to dare try to shoot a shot on him. I should have known that was a bad idea!  I think it’s fair to assume that our head collisions did not do any damage to him.  After the second KO, my mom designed and created a head gear with this ugly, rectangular pad on the front of it, just in case I bonked heads with Pearl again. It was a standard black head gear with the white straps and we attached the pad to 4 straps from the side, which held it in place. Man did that thing look stupid. And to cap it off, my mom drew a pawprint and the words, “go Joshua!” on the pad.  And to think that I felt like I looked cool back then…. Well, rest assured, there is nothing that looks less cool that wearing a dorky headgear like that with the words “go Joshua!” written on it and being pummeled mercilessly by Keith Pearl.  And the singlet I wore to match it? Yeah, take a look at the icing on the dork-cake:

No, this is not lingerie that I bought from Joe Exotic. This is the singlet I wore as a 7th grader. That singlet and a custom-made Keith Pearl knock out proof headgear with the words, “Go Joshua!” Inscribed on it is how I rolled that year. Thank goodness I eventually developed a grasp of what “cool” stuff actually looks like and started wearing KC Chiefs robes! Otherwise, I would still be a huge dork! I have Keith Pearl to thank for being cured of my dorkiness.

A leopard singlet, tights, that dorky headgear… I can’t blame anyone for wanting to kick my ass at that age.. In retrospect, if I were Keith, I would want to kick my ass too! I most certainly was asking for it!!!

And to think that I was probably the biggest thorn in Keith’s side when I was a 5th grader and he was a 6th grader. I swear, he and I wrestled at every single tournament that year and I won pretty big in every match. I pinned him in 10 seconds once. It was kind of flukey, but it happened. I didn’t know that I would pay dearly for it 2 years later. I don’t know if it was an experience thing, or what, but I only lost to two guys that year; Cory Connell and JJ Butteris, so I was having a decent season, but after every time I beat Pearl that year, I always secretly hoped that’d be the last meeting for I could tell that he was athletic as hell and had potential through the roof. And he became incredibly ticked off every time, so I knew the fire was there. , I knew the potential for him to become a badass was pretty high. I would have preferred just taking my 10 cheap 5th grade wins and outgrowing him in weight so I wouldn’t have to deal with him again, but I am not a guy who gets lucky like that. Keith and I were at the same weight every year until we graduated and as expected, the dude unleashed fury on me every time we wrestled.  Just relentless. Power-shot after power shot after power shot… just kept coming at you. And don’t get me started about how frustrating it was having to ride him. I have seen him make claims that he wasn’t good on bottom and I know he is going to write something like that in his responses, but don’t believe that jazz! My best position was on top… I am the only “old-timer” who is still in the Mepo Wrestling record books to this day and that is for Single-Season nearfalls and Career nearfalls.  Every other guy from my era who held a record at one point were replaced by one of the Mepo guys from the 2010-2018 era. I am the only one still hanging on and we had like 15 matches less than them per year! See for yourself:   http://www.meposchools.org/programs/athletics/wrestling/2013-2014-season-leaders-and-school-record-holders/.   Since that was updated the last time, Brennan Swaff has since broken both the single season and career pins records, but didn’t get near the good ol’ Nearfalls records! I held the career pins record for 2 years as well until my brother, Justin broke it.  I was very, very good at riding and putting people on their backs. And Keith was one of the most frustrating people in the world to attempt to ride or turn. He was really good on bottom. He would do this thing where he posted his head in the mat on bottom, got in the tripod position and just spiraled in one direction forcing you to follow him and then like it was nothing, would stop all of his momentum and switch directions, forcing you to follow in the other direction. You couldn’t try to execute any pinning combinations or turns for you were too focused on trying to stay behind him… and the moment you got frustrated, BOOM! He reversed you. It was maddening…

I used to secretly love watching some of my friends get lit up by him when we’d play against West Liberty in football. It gave me some sort of sense of comfort that my friends, who didn’t wrestle, could finally relate to my pain with this dude. He put on some of the best hits I ever witnessed in football.  

Nicer than hell, too. I used to broadcast Mepo wrestling/softball events through something called The Dogcast and liked running in to Keith, for I believe he did some of the same stuff for an opposing school.  Keith Pearl…absolutely one of the best wrestlers from my era.  

 

 

 

Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

Jeff Wiele convinced me to join the Moscow wrestling club with him back in 4th grade.

 

Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently?

Sean Pearl is my cousin and wrestled through high school and then for 4 years at Coe.

 

What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

I struggled for most of my youth career. I didn’t really make any noise until my 8th grade year, where I took 2nd place at AAU state. I think this was the first year I qualified for the tournament. I know you (Josh Swafford) and I wrestled almost every weekend in youth tournaments, along with Ben Kinseth and Cory Connell. It’s crazy how you go to these tournaments all over the state and you run into the same kids and get paired up in the same bracket every weekend.

 

What was your record in HS?

I don’t’ remember exactly, but somewhere around 125-10.

 

How did you place at state every year?

Freshman year I couldn’t make the lineup in West Libery. Sophomore – 5th, Junior – 3rd, Senior – 1st.

 

What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?

I couldn’t make the team at 112 or 119, so I tried to cut down to 103 pounds as a freshman in high school and broke when I was 2 pounds away. It was the Friday night before our first tournament of the year, and I just mentally gave up. Not my proudest moment and I remember the day like it was yesterday.

 

How would you describe your wrestling style?

I was never a very flexible guy during my wrestling career, so it was pretty much in your face with doubles and a high crotch. I was much better on my feet than I was on the mat. I often struggled to get away from bottom.

 

How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?

I really only had one guy that I exchanged wins with, and it was my Junior year. I lost to Corey Wilkens in the district finals, but I got revenge in the 3/4th place match at state.

 

Who was your most influential coach?

I had a ton of support over the years from the likes of Curt Diemer, Morgan DePrenger, and Rob Minnick. I remember Dennis Malone helping me a ton when I was in 7th and 8th grade.

 

Was your team competitive in HS/college?

West Liberty was always competitive while I was in high school. We always had a full lineup and tough kids. Unfortunately, we could never bring home any state tournament hardware.

 

Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?

Right before I got to high school, West Liberty had a couple multiple time champs in Ben Scorpil and Nick Marin. They got their names on the board in the room and we all looked up to that.

 

How crazy were some of your AAU brackets growing up?

I look back at some of the brackets that you post and it’s crazy some of the names that were in there and what they ended up doing in high school/college.

 

How cool is it being one of the best ever wrestlers from such a great squad in the state of Iowa?

I don’t think it about it like that. Yes, I had a good run and we had some great teams. I look at what some of the kids are doing these days with 3 and 4 time champs and these crazy stacked teams, and just can’t believe the amount of talent they are producing.

 

Who would you consider the GOAT HS wrestler?

I spent some time with Dan Knight while coaching with Bettendorf. Read his story and tell me he’s not the greatest Iowa wrestler. He’s a great guy and I really enjoyed coaching alongside him and his staff.

 

Who are your favorite current wrestlers?

Spencer Lee is just incredible to watch right now. I’ll bet he is just heartbroken right now, not knowing if he’s going to be able to complete the 4X national champion quest he was on. Kyle Dake is another that I really like watching. Was hoping to see him win an Olympic title this year.

 

What tunes would you listen to back in the wrestling days?

This is a tough one. I listened to whatever was on. We listened to a lot of Guns N’ Roses in the wrestling room during practices.

 

What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

See me note above about my loss at districts as a junior. I remember just being so upset that I lost that match. I think I stormed off the mat and remember throwing open a door outside the gymnasium that nearly took out one of the fans walking by.

 

If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?

I didn’t always put wrestling as the top priority all year around. I did it during the season and then would participate in a couple camps in the summer.

 

What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?

The moment of winning that state title is hard to beat. I remember the fans from West Liberty right on top of the mat and counting down to the end of the match. I also got the opportunity to wrestle inside of carver as a redshirt sophomore in college. I got my butt kicked and realized what it was like to be on the other side of the Iowa fan base.

 

Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?

I remember a match my freshman year in college against Luke Becker from Minnesota. We were at an open tournament just outside of the twin cities and he kicked my butt. He went on to win an NCAA title, so that softened the pain a little.

 

Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

As I got older, I did a little more, but still didn’t commit as much as I should/could have.

 

How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?

This is such a tough one. I watch some of the kids today and think they are far better than we were, but I don’t think you’ll ever win this argument.

 

Did you wrestle after high school?

Yes, I went on to Northern Iowa and wrestled there for 3 years.

 

What other sports did you play?

Football and track (both kept me in good shape and helped me grow as a wrestler). I think playing multiple sports in high school is a huge advantage to staying in shape, and keeping athletes focus on their bodies.

 

What are your favorite sports teams?

Hawks and Cubs.

 

Did wrestling help you with your football game?

I think they both complement each other well. Wrestling helped me with some of the basic tackling skills, and football and track kept me in great shape for the upcoming wrestling season.

 

How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?

I did a bunch of coaching when I first got out of college, but now that my two kids have gotten older, I am not able to give back like I used to. I really enjoyed seeing kids progress through the year and accomplishing their goals.

 

How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

I read so many articles about successful athletes that were once wrestlers. The sport provides so much self-accountability. From cutting weight, lifting weights, going to practices, and pushing yourself to the limits, this is the ultimate independent sport.

 

What do you do now?

I have been working in manufacturing for 15 years as a manager. Currently working for HNI in Muscatine.

 

Are you still involved with wrestling?

Not as much as I would like to.

 

Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

I cannot say enough about how much the sport has helped shape my career and personal life. As I reflect on my wrestling career, I like the saying ‘trust the process’. Thinking about all the practices, travel, tournaments, making weight, etc., all of this was necessary to get me to where I am at today.

 

Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?

I did one in West Liberty back in 2010-2011.

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This is part 2… There are at least 3-4 more of these to come so please calm down if you still haven’t seen someone you know of, BUT please feel free to come at me with any wrestlers you know who fit this criteria (won a HS or Collegiate national championship, but did not win state).

Eric Voelker, Dallas Center Grimes: State place winner 3rd at 185 in 1984… 2x NCAA National Champion. Won NCAA Nationals at 190 in 1987 and 1989 for Iowa State University. Eric placed 3rd at nationals in 1988.

 

Tom Meester, Central Lyon 2001: State runner-up in HS, 2x National Champion for Augustana at 184 from 2004-2005.

 

Heath Ropp, Mid Prairie: Placed 3rd as a senior in HS, National Champion for Wartburg at 125 in 2003.

 

Zac Weiglein, New Hampton: State placer in HS, 2x National Champion for Wartburg at 125 from 1999-2000.

 

Nick Ackerman, Colfax-Mingo: Placed 6th in HS in 1997 at 152, National Champion for Simpson at 174. Winner of the Hodge Trophy in 2001.

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L-R: Cole Christensen, Brett Christensen, Tate Christensen, Chase Weller and Garrett Christensen. PLEASE CORRECT ME IF I’M WRONG ON THAT

 

I have never met Brett Christensen. I have certainly heard of him, though. One of those Lenox hammers. He hit my radar when he wrestled in the 2002 state finals at 1A HWT. His finals match was against returning state champ from Lisbon, Ryan Fuller. Brett gave Fuller a close match in which Fuller won via escape in double-OT.  This match always stuck out to me for a few reasons: 1.) I think that was the second year in a row that Fuller won 1-0 in the finals. I am not sure if that ever happened before. 2.) Fuller was GREAT. Wrestled some varsity for the Hawkeyes in college. Brett gave an elite guy a great match in that one.  And 3.) One of the most memorable moments at the state tournament for me was when Fuller defeated Christensen in the finals, his reaction was to sprint off.  I sort of knew Fuller through us wrestling Lisbon first dual of the year every year and I really liked him. Nice guy and a character and I am guessing his reaction to sprint off after the match was adrenaline-fueled.  The moment this happened, I remember getting the song “I Ran” by Flock of Seagulls stuck in my head and thinking it’d be pretty funny to play that song to a clip of Fuller sprinting off and make a video out of it.  18 years later, at age 37, I somehow did not forget about this and did just that… it’s on the YouTube channel…doesn’t belong in this article, but that’s how I originally knew of Brett… the guy who wrestled Fuller when that happened. Not to make this article all about one of Brett’s matches he presumably wishes he could get back. Brett was likely very confused when all this happened. That changed a bit when I saw Brett wrestle more in college. I went to Loras College and wrestled 174/184/197 and he went to Simpson and wrestled 285 and looked good against very good wrestlers every time I watched him, which was at least 10 matches.  I remember him wrestling against a couple of Loras 285’s over the years, both of which were guys I wrestled occasionally in practice.  I remember sizing him up and comparing his scores to the scores I would have against these guys in practice and it would crack me up because I was a 152 lber my Senior year in HS and I never would have imagined that just a couple years later, I would be sizing up common opponents that I had with Brett Christensen…who was a good-sized, strong-looking HWT in HS.  He was so impressive in college.  I felt that The Iowa Conference (D3) was very tough back then at the 285 lb. Division and Christensen managed to qualify for nationals all 4 years as well as AA two of those years. He accomplished all this wrestling varying types of D3 hammers and winning.  Very impressive. And better yet with Brett, he didn’t fit the mold of being one of the types of heavier guys who spend the majority of the time hand-fighting and content to win by scores of 1-0, 2-1, UTB, etc.  Every time I watched Brett he seemed to be working something and those “somethings” often led to him putting guys right to their backs. Fun to watch.

And the dude seems to be well-liked. He has actually been requested for one of these twice. One was by a college teammate who told me it’d be a great article because of his story being an interesting one as well as his personality being fun and entertaining. This guy said that Brett is the type of teammate who was liked by everyone on the team. The other person said that they “want to read a Remember The Wrestler article on Brett Christensen because he is such a great guy.” I took their word for it and am happy to learn about his journey and it makes me even happier that when I hear his name now, I will think of this article and not end up with “I Ran” by Flock of Seagulls in my head. 

Here is Brett’s finals matches from 2000 and 2002, He did lose these, but I wouldn’t post them in his article if I felt he had anything to be ashamed of.  He battled Underwood HWT phenom Mark Lander to a close match as an underclassmen as a Sophomore… Then as a Senior, he took on a legit D1 recruit and returning state champ and gave him what was presumably his toughest match of that entire season. Brett wrestled well. Not that anyone ever has an easy road at state, but the road for Brett at state wrestling in high school, couldn’t have more bumps given the depth and the talent he consistently faced and usually defeated.

What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?

We had a little kids program in Lenox when I was growing up where I rewrote the book on how bad a kid could be at wrestling. Lenox High School. Simpson College.

 

What year did you graduate?

Lenox High School 2002. Simpson College 2006.

 

Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

Growing up in the Christensen family really left you no choice, but to wrestle. Family gatherings were, and still are, chaos. You’d think with age would come calm, but no, not here.

 

Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?

My family is big into wrestling. From uncles on down to cousins, there were a lot of us that wrestled at some point. A lot of state qualifiers, state medalists, as coaches and wrestlers, in years prior and currently. My uncle Gary won a state dual team title at Winterset, my uncle Eddard took home a traditional 3rd place state trophy at Bedford, my uncle Jim is in the IWCOA Hall of Fame. My uncle Danny was head coach at Central Decatur for years. My uncles Tom and Lynn were coaches at Lenox. And my uncles Chris, Craig, and my dad wrestled in high school. As for cousins, my cousin Cory won 3 state titles for Winterset and my cousin Tysen won a state title for Lenox. And some of us were medalists. And the stat girl position has been held by many of my cousins too all over southwest Iowa.

 

What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

My early youth results were to walk on the mat, get dominated by some kid who felt sorry me, then walk off the mat. My only rival there was the poor guy who officiated the match and had to decide whether to call the fall in 7 seconds or let it last until 20 seconds. In my head I wanted them to call it, but as they do, they let it go for a little while before calling the fall.

 

What was your record in HS?

156 – 20 with 113 falls.

 

How did you place at state every year?

2nd my sophomore and senior year. 4th my junior year.

 

What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?

I tore my MCL and PCL in my left knee 2 weeks before sectionals my junior year and thought my season was done. But after talking to my coach we decided to give it a go.

 

How would you describe your wrestling style?

Early on it was strictly defensive but eventually I got to a point where I would call it opportunistically offensive. Yeah I’ll go with that.

 

How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?

Curtis Head from Shenandoah was always a tough outing. I split with Ryan Fuller of Lisbon at state, with him winning the one that mattered most our senior year though.

 

Who was your most influential coach?

All of them in some way were influential. Erin Maguire, my high school coach, was a great motivator. You just never wanted to let him down. My uncles Tom and Lynn always were good for some laughs during some grinding practices. Ron Peterson, my college coach, kept things fun, whether it was fun for us or for some practices, just fun for him. We never felt like we couldn’t go to him for anything. Jeremy Whalen, an assistant at Simpson, I swear would sit around and come up with new conditioning drills. But always kept pushing you. Ricky Schweitzberger, another assistant at Simpson, was just crazy. Never slowed down.

 

Was your team competitive in HS/college?

At Lenox we were 5th, 3rd, and 7th at state. At Simpson we finished 5th and 6th at Nationals and 3rd and 8th at National Duals.

 

Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?

I actually didn’t watch much wrestling growing up. Mainly just kept tabs on how my family was doing. So my cousins Cory, Tysen, and Josh from Nodaway Valley.

 

Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?

Too many guys to argue for there.

 

Who are your favorite current wrestlers?

Any of the Olympians.

 

What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?

I just remember at Simpson our captain, and good buddy, Bart George hated the music we all played so one day he brought a Steve Earle CD and that CD was all we listened to one year. One time a teammate tried to change it and Bart issued the warning that if it was changed there would be problems. So we listened to Steve Earle. It was awful. Try getting yourself through a college wrestling practice with Steve Earle serenading the room with Copperhead Road or The Devil’s Right Hand. But it was listen to that or get beat up.

 

What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

My senior year in the finals.

 

If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?

To pay someone to go steal that Steve Earle CD out of our practice room at Simpson.

 

What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?

Just the teams I was a part of at both Lenox and Simpson. We had a lot of fun together. There were teams better than us but no one had a better group of idiots. A lot of us are still close to this day.

 

Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?

I remember I wrestled a guy at the Buena Vista Tournament my freshman year at Simpson and after that match I thought I had made an incredible mistake wrestling after high school. It was like a high schooler wrestling a kindergartener. I think my coaches wished I had picked a different college at that point.

 

Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

Seasonal

 

How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?

With the mindset of every wrestler, every guy thinks their era is the most dominant.

 

Did you wrestle after high school?

I wrestled at Simpson College in Indianola from 2002 – 2006. I was a 4X National Qualifier and a 2X All-American.

 

What other sports did you play?

Football and Track.

 

What are your favorite sports teams?

Pittsburgh Steelers, Michigan Wolverines, and the St. Louis Cardinals. I don’t actually watch any baseball, but my college roommate Cody Downing and the whole Downing family are die hard Cubs fans. I mean true die hard fans. And I have convinced Cody’s oldest son that I’m a huge Cards fan so now he is to. Why do I do it? Because I’m an idiot and it drives them all nuts.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: GO CARDINALS!!!! Although I do share Cody’s love of left-sided headlocks… 🙂 )

 

What are your hobbies other than wrestling?

Just hanging out with friends and not listening to Steve Earle.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Steve Earle and Eydie Gorme’s cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” is pretty sweet. Never met another wrestler who knew who Steve Earle was! 🙂 )

 

How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?

I’m just a spectator nowadays.

 

How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

As with everyone who sticks with this sport, it’s definitely given me a stronger mindset. And cauliflower ear.

 

What do you do now?

I work for the Downing Family in Creston, farming.

 

Are you still involved with wrestling?

I’m just a spectator now.

 

Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

Wrestling not to lose is a terrible way to spend 6 or 7 minutes. And always go for the fall. Leaves more time to nap in between matches until the coach finally tracks you down and starts yelling at you wondering why you’re not warming up yet. One or both of these are me speaking from experience.

 

Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?

Absolutely not. In fact, years ago my cousin Q asked if I would want to wrestle in one and I asked him to fight for even asking me.

Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?

My parents Lary and Vickie, my cousins, and the rest of the family for making it a good time for everyone. Tysen Christensen, Seth Evans, Wade Samo for setting the standard in high school. Bart George and Clint Manny, for doing the same in college. My cousins Q, Cole, and Weller, who wrestled at the same time I did and together at Simpson, and who are responsible for 97% of my anger there. The guys from Bedford, Nodaway Valley, Central Decatur, Ogden, CAM, and too many others to name.

 

Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.

To end this I’ll tell you what type of teammates I had in college. My junior year after the Simpson Invitational, my cousin Q and roommate Dustin Brewer asked me later that night if I had to use the restrooms a lot that day. I said no. And I could see the disappointment in their eyes and asked why. They said they had put laxatives in my Gatorade that morning and were hoping it kicked in while I was on the mat. So either they were light on the dose, thank God, or at some point the Gatorades got switched and someone else had a real bad day.

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Remember The Wrestler: Adam Hargrave, Louisa-Muscatine

 

I have known about Adam for a long, long time. Heck, the Hargrave bros were on the same Freestyle team that I was on. Monster USA which is run by long-time Louisa-Muscatine HC and Hargrave’s HC, Tom Mashek… Great coach.  Anyways, Adam is an area guy for me being from Mepo. Straight out of the Southeast Iowa Superconference. We used to see the Hargrave family everywhere once they started wrestling. We would see them at local tournaments as well as the major tournaments that the serious youth wrestlers generally attend. Adam is 2 years younger than my brother, Justin, so we would see him go at it with guys that Justin would wrestle in even years and he would always do well against them.  Ever since the kid was tiny…5,6 years old or whatever…Adam Hargrave was always one of the best local kids in that grade.  

 

Adam was 4 years younger than me and jumped on the scene as a Pee-Wee wrestler when I was a 4th or 5th grader.  A couple years later, his younger brother Travis, who seemed much more animated out there than Adam, started wrestling.   There was the dad, Greg Hargrave, who was a youth coach for Louisa-Muscatine and a very nice guy and all business when it came to supporting his wrestlers. I don’t know Greg well, but Adam always reminded me of a mini-Greg Hargrave. Every time you’d see Adam at a tournament, he would spend a lot of time standing mat-side, appearing to be studying and taking mental notes to some of the matches that would unravel in front of him. He would always have a serious expression on his face, equipped with what I grew up calling a “corporate eyebrow” which means one of his eyebrows would be raised while the other rested, giving the vibe that he was analyzing the hell out of whatever wrestling match he was watching.  I have learned over the years that Adam is a very intelligent wrestling mind, so I was probably on to something there. On the mat, he was on a mission.  All business. Wasn’t cocky, wasn’t a poor sport…He just seemed wise beyond his years in several ways, really. 

 

It was my brother, Justin who pointed something out to me about Adam one time.  When Adam was in maybe 2nd or 3rd grade, he was sitting in a corner at a youth tourney helping coach Travis, who was tiny at the time.  Justin and I were standing right behind them the entire match. When the match concluded, Justin nudged me and said with a smile, “listen to this little Hargrave kid talk to his brother when he gets back to the corner.”  I had no idea what he meant by that at first, but did a few seconds later when Adam began giving Travis some elaborate, detailed and very good wrestling advice.  It cracked me up that a kid that young could know so much about wrestling and be able to effectively coach it already and it apparently cracked Justin up as well, for I am guessing he had noticed it before that match,

 

Nowadays, Adam continues to put his vast wrestling knowledge to use, for he is one of the best wrestling officials in the state.  This is not surprising to me at all given how he studied the sport from a young age and it makes me happy that we have officials out there who are as knowledgeable and passionate about the rules as Adam as well as the consistency he has shown in terms of ensuring that he makes the right calls, helps other officials with his own insight, treats people with respect even when being disrespected himself and most importantly, there will never be an arrogant vibe with him that will come off as if he feels like he knows everything there is to know about officiating, for he continues to be an active learner looking to improve his skills in the thankless world of officiating.  Few of us are courageous enough to enter the officiating world, let alone at a level that Adam has… It’s a comfort knowing that we have wrestling zebras like Adam who care deeply about what they are doing, are 100% fair and strive to be the best official they can be, not for the personal glory, but for the love of the sport and the athletes it produces.  

 

A lot of these questions will be directed towards Adam’s officiating career, for I know that he holds that in just as high of a regard/importance as he does his own wrestling career.  Iowa wrestling is lucky to have guys like him. He makes Southeast Iowa wrestling proud in several ways.

 

And to anyone reading who has the desire to try officiating someday, I would advise you to observe how Adam does things when you see him. He is a great example of the high standard that an aspiring official should shoot to reach someday and if you want or need any officiating advice prior to proceeding, Adam would be the perfect person to reach out to. He cares deeply about the officiating component of wrestling and will do anything to build on it.

 

What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?

Louisa Muscatine Youth Club. Monster USA Freestyle and Greco

What year did you graduate?

2005

Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

My dad.

Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?

My brother Travis-4th Freshman year, Sophomore year 6th,Jjunior year-8th, Senior year DNP. My dad who got 2nd at state behind Mark Schwab his Senior year.
My uncle Mike who was a state qualifier.

What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

During my youth days I would wrestle Gannon Hjerleid of Wapello, Creed Grimm of Wapello, Robbie McIntyre of West Liberty, Niles Mercer of Van Buren. Seth Pugh from Columbus Jct.

What was your record in HS?

I don’t remember. 120 something wins and less than 20 losses.

How did you place at state every year?

Freshman-qualify
Sophomore-qualify
Junior- 3rd
Senior- 3rd

What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?

The cutting weight part. We had a very good team when I was in HS and just to have everyone make weight was the key thing. I missed out on a lot of Thanksgiving Dinners, Christmas Dinners.

 

How would you describe your wrestling style?

Attack style. Try to tire your opponents out.

 

How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?

Seth Pugh, Niles Mercer, Eric Davis. I wrestled these 3 guys all the time it seemed like. All matches were close.

 

Who was your most influential coach?

My dad, Greg.

 

Was your team competitive in HS/college?

Yes, we went to Regional Duals all 4 years and state duals 3 years. We got 4th two years in a row.

 

Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?

Any of the Iowa Hawkeyes

Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler? Who are your favorite current wrestlers?

Goat- Jay Borschel because of the weight span that he accomplished his 4 time championships in.

Current wrestler- Graham Gambrall. Just knowing the family, they are awesome people!

What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?

Metallica

What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

When I lost in the quarters at state my Junior and Senior years.

If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?

Winning my quarter final matches my junior and senior years.

 

What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?

Going to Fargo and placing in Greco(5th)


Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

Year round.

How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?

A lot of the guys I know are coaches now days. I officiate, but more than likely can’t hang with them.

How much of an honor is it for you to officiate the state tournament?

It is one of the greatest feelings ever. Getting a chance to watch some of the greatest wrestlers come through and watch dreams come true. It is also an honor of how many coaches throughout the state have so much respect for me, well I think anyways….

(EDITOR’S NOTE: They most certainly do have tons of respect for him).

Since you became an official, are there things you discovered that you didn’t realize about officiating until you started doing it?

It’s tough, especially at the highest level of High school.

 

As an official, do fans ever thank you for the job you do?

From now and then. When someone does thank you, that is one of the best feelings in the entire world.

 

What are your thoughts on fans who disrespect the officials? How do we slow it down?

It is hard to slow it down. Until then they actually put on some stripes themselves. Fans and spectators need to realize that we are only human and we will make mistakes. And we as officials need to learn to admit when we are wrong and we need to make the situation right. Anyone that has an ego that gives them the false impression that they are always right, should not be an official. Officials need to watch, listen, and keep learning with the sport.

 

What other sports did you play?

Football

 

What are your favorite sports teams?

Baseball- Cardinals

What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
Camping, Fishing, Hunting.

How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?

I love giving back to the sport of wrestling. With out officials, there wouldn’t be any sports. I’m just glad I can give back this way.

How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

I am a very motivated person.

What do you do now?

I work at Bayer Crop Division in Muscatine as a PLC Tech. Programable Logic Controllers

Are you still involved with wrestling?

Yes I officiate.

Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

Love the sport for what it is…practice hard=compete hard!

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Josh Budke Weighs In On ESPN’s The Season

Several years ago, ESPN produced a documentary about Iowa Hawkeye wrestling called “The Season.”  I have always hated this documentary. I got the vibe that the footage/material was tailored to create a false impression to ensure that whatever narrative they had in mind was followed.  I have always been skeptical of that documentary’s intentions.  

The wrestler who had the most negative experience with this documentary was Josh Budke. Budke was in his final season of college and struggling to make the lineup for the Iowa Hawkeyes at the time. The ESPN crew caught him at one of the most stressful phases of his life. And with the skits they cherrypicked, I mean chose to use for the documentary, they painted this picture of him as if he never won any of the matches he wrestled (which wasn’t the case) and as if he were feeling sorry for himself. The part of the documentary that stood out to fans was Tom Brands’s thoughts on Budke and his situation. Here is a short clip of it. Brands is at the end.:

 

Budke took a ton of crap for that. Internet badasses freely and regularly called him names, disrespected him, disregarded everything he had done prior to that, etc. Not to mention, the overwhelming majority of people who watched it, couldn’t stop talking about how cold and harsh Tom Brands came off when he made the “I don’t feel sorry for Josh Budke. You get what you earn” comment. This wasn’t fair to Tom Brands either, for everyone seemed to not hear the part where he said he would want nothing more than for Budke to succeed. So it’s not like the man was trying to be cold and harsh for the sake of being cold and harsh to Budke. It came off to me as a “tough love” approach, which was not how it was perceived by the masses at all. Sometimes when either Brands says something that is down to Earth and/or moderately sensitive, it goes totally unnoticed due to being upstaged by their own intensity.

You do get what you earn and because of that, there’s no need to feel sorry for Budke. It is pretty hard to dispute that logic from Brands. However, I will freely admit that I did and still do feel bad for Josh Budke for a couple of reasons. 1.) I feel bad that Budke’s career ended in such negative fashion that it gave him a bitter taste in his mouth about wrestling. Budke had a brilliant career that he should feel proud of. It is so unfortunate that something like this documentary would put a wrench in his personal feelings for the sport. He deserved a better send off than that. Ok, so maybe he wouldn’t make the lineup, but the embarrassment he endured as a result of a documentary that aired on ESPN and prompted tons of fans to ridicule him for years? Come on. He didn’t deserve that. And 2.) I feel bad for him because I don’t think he knew what he had gotten himself into when he agreed to be interviewed. I don’t think he had any idea that agreeing to simply be interviewed by them would result in his entire career and reputation being tarnished to those who didn’t know better. It’s not right that so many wrestlers end on a sour note that sticks with them especially considering the blood, sweat and tears they sacrificed for years.. My brother Justin had a great career and he couldn’t talk about wrestling for 10 years due to how bad his ending hurt his soul. It’s sad that so many wrestlers experience this. When a guy like Budke, a 3X state champ, calls it quits, he should feel proud of what he accomplished opposed to ashamed of himself because of how it ended, but that’s likely easier said than done in his case, for his situation was laid out in a manner in which constant reminders of the dark phase is a certainty.

Budke was always one of my favorite wrestlers growing up and I have always refused to let “The Season” affect the way I perceive Josh Budke because I was always pretty confident that there was a lot of B.S. included to create dramatic effect. I felt like the entire Hawkeyes squad was misrepresented to some degree. I knew that team… knew many of them personally. Saw them all the time at college opens when I was wrestling at Loras. The Hawkeye wrestlers could most certainly be a grouchy crew at these events, but I don’t blame them for not wanting to discuss some forgotten AAU match they had from 1993 with some spazzy D3 guy that they forgot about. Outside these events though, every one of them that I ran into were fun to be around and good people. Not nearly as “robot-caveman” as the filmmakers would like you to believe. 

Josh Budke was nice enough to provide an inside look at his experiences while interacting with the crew who put The Season together. Josh Budke… a guy who dedicated a large portion of his life to wrestling and was sent off with media-ringworm. I think this man’s voice deserves to be heard. 

 

ESPN’s documentary on the Iowa Hawkeye wrestling team called “The Season,” depicted you in a manner that I assume was not flattering to you.  What was your experience with that? Did you feel like it depicted you accurately?

JOSH BUDKE: Yeah, not flattering is a nice way to say it.  My wife and I do not watch reality TV the same way now, that is for sure.  It was an interesting experience to be part of the process and aspects were accurate, but they also did a great job of making it very dramatic.  I can honestly say I did not realize the camera had followed me a couple times and you get used to them being around, so you are not looking for it either.  Nothing was staged so it was all real, but the documentary material that was chosen was certainly used to forward the story lines they wanted and put forth a certain narrative.

I can say honestly that it has taken me years of processing my failures at Iowa to be ok discussing this, but my hope is to answer some of the questions and comments I have heard over the years and maybe add some insight.  

If you watched it, you would swear I never won a match that year! After the first few weeks of the season and before tryouts I was something like 12-2.  One bad loss at a Missouri tournament and I ended up 3rd.   At the Omaha tournament I lost to Dylan Long from UNI in the quarters or Semi’s and ended up 3rd again. Bad way to start the year when you are looking to earn the starting spot.

A couple weeks into the season and it was the day of tryouts.  This is when the documentary gets underway and when I first knew what was going on regarding ESPN.  That day I walked out into Carver (Hawkeye arena) by myself just to get acclimated to the lights and space before the matches got underway.  Carver was empty other than a couple guys sitting there talking in the front row.  I just wandered over to make small talk and had no idea who they were.  One guy asks me some questions about who I was, and I just keep answering and chatting these guys up trying to keep my nerves in check.  Next thing he says is “Hey, we are from ESPN and we are following the team around this year”  “Would you mind if we ask you a few questions sometime, and we may follow you around a little and get some footage”  As a 5th year Senior, I had been waiting for a long time to be the top guy as I had wrestled only a couple varsity matches as a Sophomore, otherwise I was sitting behind Schwab and Zadick and TJ Williams.  So, I agreed.  In my mind it was going to be my spot that year and I was going to be an All-American and how cool was it going to be to have that documented by ESPN.  I thought about Jesse Whitmer and I was going to do the same thing he did. Never crossed my mind that it could go the other way.

So, I lose a very close tryout to Moffit at 141.  Crushed by that I go up the room to blow off some steam on the bike.  Zero clue anyone was around as tryouts are still going on at that point. No idea they captured that footage.   Not long after that Zadick gets banged up so I get to travel out East with the team in case I need to wrestle 149.  Zalesky never really tells me if I am wrestling or not but just to be ready.  Really bad wrestling strategy on my part with a ranked guy from Penn. That ended up being a really long weekend with some interesting footage for the show.

As the season progresses, I had my opportunities.   Whether at Midlands or other open tournaments to make my case for the starting spot. I never did that.

One funny side note.  Right after we get married my wife and I were watching it live the summer as it came out (she has never watched it since).  The last episode is closing out and all of sudden we see footage from our wedding.  A few upset phone calls later we found out that while we were on our honeymoon, ESPN reached out to our family and one of our parents sent the ESPN crew our wedding tape.   We had no clue.

 

 

After being on The Season, did you feel like your legacy was affected by it? Were there any long-term effects from it, such as people bringing that up to you before they do the high points of your career that outnumber that one negative phase of your life?

 

JOSH BUDKE: I do think it affected and still affects how many in the wrestling community view me.  I am the guy who did not cut it at Iowa, quit and left the team, etc.  After it aired my family and I received negative notes and calls, and the internet message boards certainly crucified me.  Never a good idea to look at the message boards but I was smart enough not to respond back at least.

It has been 18 years since that season, and I do not regret my decisions.  I do regret my inability to win some of those close matches and the inability to mentally turn the corner regarding my wrestling.  I ended up being a better wrestler in the practice room than out and competing and that is painful to admit.  Plenty of excuses to give for that or reasons why, but at the end of the day I did not get it done and I have never blamed anyone for that but myself.  The great thing about this sport is you win or lose on your own merit.  Pretty simple.  Brutal at times but that is wrestling.

To this day I do not regret finishing my season/career when I did.  The coaches made a call to go with Moffit and not have me travel with the varsity any longer.  If I were owed anything (great quote by Brands by the way) I would have liked to have been included as part of that main travel team (they travel with more than just the 10 starters)  After nearly 5 years put into the program and the blood, sweat, and thousands of hours to at least continue to include me, even if it were not as THE guy would have been nice.  But back to Brand’s quote, you don’t deserve anything, and I had not earned that in their eyes, so it is what it is.  

At the end of this, Moffit went on to win the big ten tournament,so he was the best guy at the weight class, and I do not dispute that.  When that decision was made my season and career was essentially done so it was time to call it over.  I was mentally burnt out and I was not helping anyone, so it was time to move on with life.  The next morning was like a huge burden was off my back and I knew it was the right decision.  Many will disagree with me on that decision in not hanging in through the rest of the season and that is ok.  Part of my problem even thru college was searching for everyone else’s approval, and wanting to be accepted, liked and to have people proud of me.  Now that I am an old man, I am finally past that.

During my wrestling career I had my successes and I have some failures.  Some epic failures for everyone to see but I was in the fight and I do not regret my journey.  Again, no excuses.  I was there and lived it and failed.  It is not fun having it immortalized that way on ESPN but that is life.  You learn and move on.  You lose and decide how you are going to handle it.  I do not regret where I am at today and God had his plans for me, and I have accepted that.  I have 5 awesome healthy kids, a beautiful wife, and a career that has given me a lot. I have done my share of winning outside of wrestling now and I give wrestling a lot of credit for that.  It used to be hard to hear but I’m ok now seeing this “You don’t deserve anything.  The only thing you deserve is what you earn” I think Brands was right.

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So today I was thinking about Mepo’s Drew Foster and my brother Brennan and how Drew won D1 last year and Brennan NAIA this year, but neither won state in HS and it got me thinking about who all has done this. This will likely be a recurring series once other names get brought to my attention…but the guys I thought of so far are:

 

DREW FOSTER

PITTSBURGH, PA – MARCH 23: Drew Foster of the Northern Iowa Panthers celebrates after winning the 184 pound title during the championship finals of the NCAA Wrestling Championships on March 23, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Drew Foster, Mediapolis: Placed 3rd, 7th and 2nd at state. Was an NCAA D1 National Champ for UNI in 2019.

 

 

CHUCK YAGLA

Chuck Yagla, Waterloo Columbus; Was a runner-up In HS and a 2X NCAA National Champ for Iowa.

 

 

BRENNAN SWAFFORD

Brennan Swafford, Mediapolis: Placed 6th, 5th, 2nd, 2nd at state in HS… Won NAIA Nationals in 2020 for Graceland University.

 

 

 

AARON DRAIN

Aaron Drain, Mediapolis: In HS he went DNP, DNP, DNP, 4th. However, he won AAU Nationals as a Sophomore and Junior and won stacked brackets with several of the guys who placed ahead of him at state. My take is, Aaron Drain (and others) tended to peak about a month after the state tournament.

 

 

 

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON

Chris Johnson, West Burlington-Notre Dame: In HS, he placed: DNQ, 3rd, DNP, 3rd. However, he won Reno World’s, Tulsa Nationals and AAU Nationals in HS. Like Aaron Drain, he peaked a month after state. The brackets he would win had future D1 champs in them. Chris was elite.

 

 

 

GRANT HENDERSON

Grant Henderson, Alburnett: In HS I think he qualified a couple times and placed, but he won multiple NAIA titles at Grand View. I want to say he won 3.

 

 

COREY KALINA

Corey Kalina, Belle Plaine And Wartburg… he placed 4th or 5th as a Sophomore and 2nd as a Junior and Senior. He is one of the best wrestlers to never win state. His Tulsa National championship provides some proof of that.

 

MORE OF THESE TO COME!

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This is the first of hopefully 3 articles pertaining to Josh Budke. This should be good news for anyone who knows Budke, for he is one of the most interesting individuals on the planet and all of his insight is gold. There have been a lot of wrestlers that I either didn’t like that much back in the day or just felt neutral about them and now that I have met some of them, they have become some of my favorite ever Iowa HS wrestlers. Budke doesn’t fit that category. Budke fits the category of, “my grandpa Swafford, my brother Justin and I were huge fans of Josh Budke back in the day and now that I’ve gotten to know him a bit, I am an even bigger fan of his than I was before.”

I became a fan of Budke because I liked whoever my grandpa liked. We watched most of those mid-90’s state tournaments in his living room. Some of the best times of my life. First and foremost, we rooted for the Mepo guys. After that, we pulled for the Southeast Iowa guys and along with those guys, we had our favorites that we picked for whatever reason…mostly because we liked how they wrestled. Eric Juergens and Josh Budke were my grandpa’s favorites around that time. Grandpa loved how animated and intense Budke was when he wrestled. The guy just did not quit. Even in situations where he seemed like he was in trouble, he would generally find a way out of it and if a call was questionable, he wasn’t afraid to let it be known that he felt the way he did. One of the most competitive wrestlers the state has ever produced.

The storyline of the 1997 State Tournament that my grandpa, brother and I were most emotionally invested in was his highly anticipated finals match with Iowa City High Senior, Jesse West. Budke was not only the returning state champion, but he had won it the previous two years coming into that tournament. However, West was also a returning state champion and had beaten Budke 3 times over the course of the regular season. This provoked collective and mostly shared feelings of anger amongst wrestling fans across the state of Iowa, for West wasn’t Iowa’s returning state champ….he was a transfer from Kansas. These days, people don’t get as worked up as they used to about guys who moved into the state or transferred. Back in 1997 though, the act of someone transferring for wrestling seemed like such am uncommon, foreign idea that the transfers weren’t treated like the rest, but like…well, foreigners. With Jesse West, some people were so dramatic about it that it was like we were being invaded by the evil Russian from Rocky 4, Ivan Drago and it gave a lot of people who weren’t used to it a feeling of, “why did THAT GUY move to OUR state to compete in OUR sport! He must be booed!!!” When West moved to Iowa, it was like the Iconic Iowan meets the Commie……Kansan. I am being facetious, West is not a Communist, nor is Kansas, but some people seemed to hold him in a lower regard in that situation back then. People got ugly with it. Transfers received very cold unwelcomes back then and it wasn’t fair to them. They should have tried considering it a compliment to Iowa wrestling that competitors from other states hold us in so high of a regard that they want to see how they can match up against what they perceive to be “the best.”

One of the upcoming articles on Budke is a hopeful “Inside The Rivalry” on his rivalry vs. Jesse West. West has been difficult to get in contact with, so Jesse if you are reading this, please get ahold of me! This article will be great and will shed some much needed light on your perspective on things given your unique situation the 1 year you were in Iowa. Budke completed his questionnaire for this already and it is some of the most thought-provoking, humble, complimentary and entertaining stuff I think I’ve ever received. The man noticed and remembered the little things that often get looked past or quickly forgotten.

With all that said and no offense to Jesse West, he is probably a great guy, but the Swafford family was firmly entrenched in the Budke corner. It wasn’t necessarily the transfer thing that bothered me. I mean, the thought of more people moving into Iowa kind of annoyed me at the time because more people meant longer lines at Adventureland, but we were more so long-time Budke fans by that point. And the end of that match is something that I can remember like it was yesterday. There was a lot of hootin’ and hollering during that match. Budke had a way of pumping the Swafford clan up.

And get this, about a decade later I randomly met Josh Budke while taking a call at my old employer. And it was a pretty funny way to meet him. So for 5.5 years, I worked as a Service Coordinator and Internal Business Auditor for a successful mental health service provider. On a day where I was scheduled to conduct an expense claim audit in our Burlington office, the secretary came in and told me that I had a call on line 1 and that it was a “James question.” A “James question.” This was a reference to a guy named James Maize. James was my boss for 5 years and was a good wrestler out of Kirksville, MO. He has a son that is a 5th grader named Ian Maize and he is a total animal…wrestles for Washington, IA. Mark my words, the kid will be a stud. Anyways, James is one of the most influential people in my life. Someone I look up to more than probably anyone outside my family. The guy taught me so many valuable skills. In fact, this site probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for James Maize.  I was so impressed with his writing skills and vocabulary that I began studying the dictionary and made a serious attempt at trying to write with the clarity that James could. Changed my life. Anyways, the term “James question” was coined because there were certain questions that we would get from clients and funding sources on a daily basis that only James was knowledgeable enough to provide a helpful answer for. If James was out of the office, these calls were directed to the next person in line…me. I was the next in line because I had roughly a .001% success rate in answering these questions correctly correctly. There was always the far-fetched possibility that I could answer a “James question” accurately on accident. 

So I was conducting this expense claim audit when I received this call. This audit was something that I could finish in 15 minutes, but it became a day-long job if I gave in to the urge of checking The Predicament’s message boards. This was one of those days where I gave into the urge. I picked up the phone, prepared to let this person down by not being able to answer their question when I blurted my greeting, “hello this is Josh, how may I help you?” The person responded in an enthusiastic, articulate and polite manner, “hello there, this is Josh Budke. I was wondering if we could discuss a few things if you have time?” The name immediately made me do a double-take, wondering if I had heard him correctly and I responded with, “Josh Budke? Did you say your name is Josh Budke?” Budke’s reaction to this inquiry was something that makes me smile to this day. He said in an upbeat and chipper voice, “well, it sounds like I have a wrestling fan on the line. Must be my lucky day. Won’t be too hard to build a rapport with you, I’m guessing?” LOL Josh Budke knew that I was a wrestling guy simply because he picked up on the double-take I did when I heard his name. He knew IMMEDIATELY that I knew who he was. Goodness, that was one of the most witty responses I have ever heard to anything. The more Josh Budke we can get on this site, the better the site will be. This man is interesting, funny and just straight-up entertaining. One of my favorite wrestlers ever. Oh yeah, and I wasn’t able to answer his “James question” that he had for me… I don’t think I even heard it for I was wanting to talk wrestling with him so badly.  

 

 

What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?

I grew up in Cedar Falls but wrestled mainly at the Waterloo Wahawk program.  Marty Dickey was the main coach early and then Dave Moses took over.  I owe a ton to both of those coaches.  When I started wrestling, I didn’t have wrestling shoes, so Marty gave me some old blue Dan Gables that one of his boys grew out of.  The Dickey boys were studs at Waterloo West so that was really cool.

If you look at the kids that came out of that program, I don’t think there would be many clubs with better results in the 90’s than the Wahawk program.  The Reiter’s from Don Bosco, Clarks from La Porte City just to name a few.  If you look at the place winners and state champs from any nearby towns, I will bet they went to the Wahawk program.

I spent some time at East Waterloo’s club also.  Sallis, Jordan and Galloways were there and ran a great club.  

Junior High and High School in Cedar Falls

College at University of Iowa

 

What year did you graduate?

 1997 from Cedar Falls High School

 

Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

My Dad loved (still does) wrestling and took me to the UNI wrestling clinic and meet when I was in Kindergarten.  I cried the whole time and went 0-3.  Same thing in 1st grade and 2nd grade.  By 2nd grade though I cried a little less and think I won all 3 matches.

3rd grade was when I started at the Wahawk program.

 

Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?

I have a nephew in high school who wrestles for Ballard Huxley right now, a younger nephew up in Cedar Falls wrestling, and my little boy just got started.  I swore my kids would never wrestle but he loves it.  Plus, he has 4 sisters that beat on him, so he needs to toughen up a bit 😊

 

What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

Oh man.  I forgot about some of those rivals and then looking thru your videos and they keep popping up.  I think its just because I lost a lot as a kid!

First time I went to AAU was in 5th grade I didn’t even qualify for state.

In 6th grade I got beat my Benji Silver at districts and then ended up 4th at AAU State.  Bobby Gonshorowski beat me in the Semi’s, and he took 2nd to Casey Quinn.

In 7th grade I qualified but didn’t place.  I think Jimmy Rogers won that weight class, one of his million titles.  That guy was always a stud.

In 8th grade I ended up 5th at AAU.  Brandon Livingood (Decorah) beat me in the Semi’s and then he ended up 2nd to Jeff Evans from Riverside.  Kid from Greene (I think Trace Landers) beat me in the wrestle backs.

Rivals:  I am missing some for sure so may have to send an update later!

JD Pugh.  Not sure it was a rivalry because I’m not sure I ever beat him!  I remember one summer we both wrestled at Lisbon’s freestyle tourney.  We both entered into both Cadet and Juniors, so he beat me twice that day.  Didn’t know him outside of wrestling but still really sad when he was killed.  His brother is a great guy

Ryan Cunningham from Forest City tore me up a couple times.  Once at Ft. Madison and some college guy had to keep my dad from coming after me, he was so mad about that loss 😊long story.

Zack Weiglein from New Hampton and Cruikshank from Tama come to mind also!

Livingood and I went back and forth but I know he beat me more than I got him.

Jesse Schadt and Jimmy Rogers were other guys I always looked up to as top notch while we were kids.

 

What was your record in HS?

In high school I was 155-11

 

How did you place at state every year?

 4th at State at 103 in 1994, 1st at 103 in 1995, 1st at 112 in 1996 and 1st at 125 in 1997

 

What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?

College in general did not go great for me.  I would say getting to watch yourself fail on ESPN and have that memorialized for all time is right up there.  

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been better about putting that into perspective and not allowing it to ruin wrestling for me and all of the positives I was able to take away from the sport.  

 

How would you describe your wrestling style?

 Boring :0)

I was bad on my feet, ok on bottom, but pretty tough on top.  I think my Freshman year I had more wins than takedowns!  

I had a teammate with a great cradle and killer headlock and the CF fans loved watching him.  They would leave to get popcorn during my match to get ready for his!  

I would try to force a scramble and was pretty good from a front headlock

 

How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?

 Couple really comes to mind.

My Freshman year I wrestled Jeremy White from Cedar Rapids Jefferson.  He was a Senior and he was a man!  Big dude for 103lbs!  We wrestled 5 times that year (Dual, Keith Young, 5 Seasons, Conference and State) I went 2-3 with him.  My face was black and blue after EVERY match.

Senior year was Jesse West from Iowa City High.  I wrestled down at the Hawkeye Club in Iowa City on Sunday’s.  I remember seeing this guy and my Dad thought he was a freshman at Iowa, not a high school kid.  I went 0-3 during the year against him and finally won one in the state Finals.

 

Who was your most influential coach?

I had some great coaches!  One of my biggest regrets is not appreciating those guys enough.  As a high school kid, you don’t realize the time and energy they put in and get paid next to nothing for it.  I’m going to miss a few here but Jay Llewelyn, Jeff Gard, Ken Gallagher, and Mark Olmstead were major factors in my success.

Most influential would be Paul Huffman.  He stayed after practice every night to work with me.  He showed me how to leg ride the correct way and I went from being mediocre on top to being able to turn guys and I beat a lot of kids I would never have prior.

Gene Doyle did a great job of having top notch assistances and it was really special getting into the hall of fame the same year as coach Doyle.

 

Was your team competitive in HS/college?

Cedar Falls was really tough in the 90’s.  We had a full Varsity, JV, and Freshman/Sophomore team I believe every year and it was a big deal to get in the lineup!

CF was 2nd and 1st at State in 1992 and 1993 so my freshman year in 1994 had big expectations.  We did not have a great state tournament and ended up tied for 4th.

My senior year we were undefeated in duals and won state in 1997.   After I graduated CF won in 1998 also.

College was strange for me.  I was on the Iowa team that won a couple national championships.  I was never the guy at the weight, so I really never felt like part of those teams.  It was almost like if you didn’t make the poster it didn’t count

 

Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?

With CF having some great teams I had a lot of guys to look to.  Those 92 and 93 teams had some great guys and I remember wanting to be as good as Zach Geary someday.

Outside of CF you had Blackford, Kjelgaard, Flach, Juergens, McGinnis, Ironside so the mid 90’s was full of guys to look up to.

The Iowa team of the 90’s with Steiner and Brands and the poster “were all back” I was a big Steiner fan.

 

Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?

Again, going thru this in the 90’s Jeff McGinnis being undefeated at City high would be the GOAT.  Getting pounded on by him in college then not so great 😊

 

Who are your favorite current wrestlers?

When my college career ended, I didn’t follow the sport a whole lot.  As my kid has started up, I’ve been watching more and its hard not to like the Hawks.  Kemerer beating Hall was awesome and would have loved seeing how nationals would have turned out for him and Marinelli.

 

What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?

 Big Metallica fan.  That’s was what I had in my Walkman most of time training.

 

What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

Losing to Jesse West at the Keith Young tournament was one of the worst.  I thought I was going to breeze thru my Senior year after going undefeated as a Junior and then opening tournament I get beat in front of the home crowd.  

Another one was senior year I lost after a HUGE lead in the finals to Tim Cory at State Freestyle.  I was so mad I left and didn’t sign up for nationals.  Big regret in not going to Fargo that year.

 

If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?

 I didn’t keep wrestling in perspective.  I hated it most of the time honestly and was ready for it to be over.  Looking back, I took it too seriously and I took any enjoyment away from the sport.  

Plenty of individual loses and tournaments I would love to have back but I would say it was more of my attitude towards wrestling.  The very few times I wrestled and had fun; I was so much better.  I put too much pressure on myself and it shut my wrestling down in trying not to lose vs. going out and wrestling.

 

What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?

I was able to participate in the first Dream Team all-star meet in 1997.  That was such a great experience because it was where I grew up wrestling (held at Waterloo West) I got the chance to meet some top guys, like Sanderson and Heskett and then also got a win.  I remember it being the loudest time I can remember after a win as the whole place was yelling and going crazy.  (shout out to Jamie Taxted for a win there also!)  That whole night was great, and the Iowa team had several close matches with the nation’s best guys.

High School hall of fame would be another.  My youngest kids (twins) were not born yet but getting to go out during finals with my older kids was really cool.  That and alongside my high school coach Gene Doyle and that night was really special.

 

Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?

Most notable loss.  Junior year – Nationals at Fargo.  I got beat so quick and so badly by Stephan Abbas that I walked off the mat and couldn’t even be upset.  Only match I’ve ever lost and was not upset about.  I wasn’t in his league.

Competitors not mentioned previously.

Mark Rial.  Pinned me twice my Freshman year.  I went out in the Semifinals at State determined not to get head locked.  Shot in, stood up and wham, headlocked and pinned.

Cory Gardner.  He beat me during the summer one year, but we had 2 really close matches at State and I’m pretty sure he would have won it if I didn’t beat him his senior year.

Too many loses in college for this article 😊

 

Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

Year round starting about 8th grade.  I was not great at Freestyle and it seemed like they changed the rules every summer!  I wish you got a point for a push out back then.  (still wouldn’t have helped me enough).

 

How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?

I’m sure everyone says this, but the top guys would be right there with the top guys.  If you look at some of the top guys, they would have done well.

Guys like Blackford, Will Kelly, David Kjelgaard, Nick Flach, Juergens, Schwab.  Pretty tough group.

 

Did you wrestle after high school?

Wrestled at U of Iowa.  Had a few varsity matches as a sophomore and as I senior.  Wrestled behind a lot of good guys but didn’t take full advantage of the opportunities when they came up.

 

What other sports did you play?

Starting in 8th grade I only wrestled.  I played lots of sports growing up and pretty mediocre at everything!

 

What are your favorite sports teams?

Cubs fan, and Iowa sports

 

What are your hobbies other than wrestling?

I spent several years doing Triathlon and did a full Ironman back in 2010.  Loved it but as my kids have grown my attention has been in their activities.  I have 5 kids and it takes a lot to keep up.

I coached a lot of girls’ soccer teams which I absolutely love.  Side note- I used to hate soccer but it’s a great sport for kids and great to coach.  My older girls no longer play but I still coach a U8 soccer team for my youngest daughter and they are in great condition 😊

 

How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?

I coached a few years at Cedar Rapids Washington and loved it.  Watching kids develop and being part of that is addictive and made me understand why people coach.   I would say the sport of wrestling for me has been a love and hate relationship and I’m trying to embrace the positive sides and not just hold onto the negatives. 

 

How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

Work ethic, discipline and grit are things this sport give you that you have forever and can take you a long way in life.  That single determination can also be a negative thing if you lose perspective so finding a balance is critical in my opinion.

 

What do you do now?

 I am a partner at the Accel group and help manage the employee benefits division.  Great company with several former wrestlers!  Shameless plug if anyone has insurance needs 😊

 

Are you still involved with wrestling?

My son Cam is just a 1st grader.  We’ll see if he sticks with it, but he loves it so I’m really letting him determine how much we do right now.  I saw a lot of my buddies burn out and I burned out by the end so I’m overly sensitive to having him enjoy the sport – success will come later if he continues getting better.  If he decides to go a different route that’s cool too.  Not going to be something he does because of me that’s for sure.  I might jump back in and coach a little if he continues.

 

Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

Oh man I think I could write a book.  Success is a good thing and I’m not advocating against working hard towards a goal.  That being said, we all have the gifts and tools God gives us so defining success and defining ourselves within only wins and loses can be very damaging.  I lived that and had a very hard time with my failures and how I thought it impacted who I was as a man.  So, allowing yourself, your athlete, your team to have some perspective around being their best and working towards your best BUT not letting it define you (them) would be some of the advice I’d share.  This is a great sport that can create some great habits and long-term success, but it also needs to be kept in perspective.

That might sound soft to some of the old school guys that read that, but I personally believe balance is important.

 

Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?

I went to the Ft. Madison old timers once when I was helping coach at CR Washington.  It was brutal back then and I was in my late 20’s.  I honestly think I would have a heart attack if I tried again so I’m going to pass!

 

Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?

My old CF teammates and Wahawk clubmates for sure.  Wrestling is such an individual sport that you lose sight of those around you many times.  Now as an old guy you look back and have an appreciation for those who struggled alongside you.

 

Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.

I mentioned coaching girls’ soccer.  Almost forgot.  Tim Ironside’s daughter plays soccer (she’s a stud) and Tim and I coached our girls a couple years ago together.  It had to quite the sight, seeing two old wrestlers yelling at a group of middle school girls on the soccer field.  The other coaches didn’t seem to give us a hard time 😊

More of a shout out.  Senior year after getting beat by West a few times Nick Flach (Ft. Madison stud, wrestling at UNI at the time) reached out to me and offered his help.  We only worked out a couple times but mentally we worked thru a game plan for State and it was what I needed.  Gave me the confidence back after those loses.  Big thanks to him. I owe him and never thanked him enough for it!

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Back story to this one: This is one of my first ever wrestling articles published. I have been writing for years to varying degrees of little to debatable success and my first ever gig was writing for The Mepo News Sports Section when I was 17. Then when I became 21, I became a relatively successful humor writer and had a couple articles published on College Humor. My “mascot” for that site is actually a pretty famous meme that most have you have probably seen before. People think it’s a real person, but nope… it’s me dressed in hillbilly “get-up” and my wife’s hair extensions creating the illusion of a mullet man. If you’ve ever seen a meme with a trashy mullet guy wearing jokers and an orange cut-off that reads, “Dawg Pounds,” that’s me! 😂My first wrestling article idea was pitched and accepted by Wyatt Schultz of The Predicament and after years of being turned down by other sources for similar ideas, I finally wrote something about wrestling that was published. That was a couple years ago and it was this article.

If I were to name 5 people off the top of my head to give credit to in terms of helping me get to a position where I am writing about wrestling with people actually reading the material, I would say; James Maize, Mary Beckman, Wyatt Schultz, Kendra Jahn and Marshall Koethe. After the Inside The Rivalry idea was accepted, I had to get Herda and Koethe on board and I knew all about their rivalry, but they did not know me. So here I was, this stranger, inquiring about whether or not they were interested in participating in an article about their rivalry that consisted of personal stories, expression of thoughts and feelings, reliving pleasant and unpleasant phases of their lives, etc. Both agreed immediately. Herda thought it was awesome and was excited for it. This story had a good ending for him. Koethe was cooler than I could have possibly imagined when I asked him if he’d participate. This story didn’t end well for him and chronicles a dark phase of his life where he was making questionable decisions and was on the receiving end of some blatant hate and boos from general wrestling spectators. Here I am, this stranger and a person who likely comes off to everyone as maybe a little…too enthusiastic and crazy about everything, and he was all in. He took the opportunity immediately and expressed his desire to do well on it, in a way that could possibly connect with teen wrestlers today who may be reading and teeter-tottering with their own life-choices. These guys went all out and the reception of the article was great. Without these two, this site would not exist… and Koethe, to this day has consistently supported everything I’ve posted and has offered to help me with the site while knowing that I have nothing to offer at this time. This kid made a fan for life with this article and there will never be a day where I won’t have this kid’s back 100% in whatever endeavors he pursues. A lot of potential writing talent with him.

Big thanks to both these guys! In a way, it got me started with some aspirations of mine that is reflected on the site.

 

Nate Herda

Marshall Koethe

Inside the Rivalry: Chronicles of Some of the Greatest Rivalries in Iowa High School Wrestling

Chapter 1: Marshall Koethe (Akron Westfield/Twin River Valley) vs. Nate Herda (Central Lyon)

The year was 2008. 2008 was a fun year, thanks to the head to head match-ups we were fortunate enough to see at the tournament. The team races were more or less blow-outs. Don Bosco won in 1A, Ballard in 2A and Waverly Shellrock in 3A.  All three schools set the scoring records for their classes in that year. And all three schools repeated the next year.

Don Bosco won 1A again with a handful of Welters sprinkled with two Reiters as well as a Kettman, Schares, Ortner, Becker, McMahon and Delagardelle. That’s a nice collection of names that when you hear them, they immediately make you think of Don Bosco wrestling. Central Lyon represented the Northwest part of the state well with two state champs (Nate Herda and Jordan Gacke with a runner up finish from Scott Eben). Also in 1A in 2008, Bart Reiter clinched his 3rd of four state championships, Deric Thomas splashed onto the scene by winning his first of three, Jake Demmon looked like a machine at the state tournament. There was some good wrestling in 1A in 2008.

In 2A in 2008, Ballard was a total powerhouse and just ran away with the title with their Weatherman bros, a couple Hiatt bros, Tyler Grask, Coffman, Taylor Eichenberger, Sullivan, Anderson, Ramsey, etc. They were absolutely dominant in 2A during this time…this was the time right before the emergence of Assumption, Mediapolis, Denver-Tripoli, Creston, Union-La Porte City & West Delaware of Manchester There was an unbelievable match between Ridge Kiley and Levi Wolfensperger that came right down to the wire in which Kiley was victorious. To make things more impressive, the 3rd place finisher in that bracket was Joe Colon from Clear Lake…a guy who has succeeded on every level and still continues to on the international scene.  Now that’s a tough 3rd place guy. Andrew Long from Creston won his 3rd title and looked unbeatable in doing so. Seth Noble from Columbus Jct. won his first of two titles as a Sophomore. He was closer to winning four titles than people realize.  2A also gave the state their first look at physical specimen and professional football player, Austin Blythe from Williamsburg who placed 2nd at 285 as a Freshman, which is generally unheard of.  His senior brother, Holden, won the 220 lb. bracket.

3A in 2008 was the Waverly Shellrock show. I can’t think of a team that I would consider better than this one…it was total domination. They had their Ballwegs, Caldwell, Cox, Rinken, Thompson, Campbell, Kittleson, Averhoff, Wrage, etc. I used to think that I would never see a team that was assembled with more ammo than the Lewis Central and Emmetsburg teams of the early 2000’s. Then Waverly-Shell Rock came along and changed my mind. They made the team race a boring one…for the other teams.  It was a race for 2nd coming in to the tourney, for everyone knew WSR would dominate.  3A had some interesting stuff this year. St. John’s bracket in 2008 was interesting, though. He beat Kyven Gadsen in the finals. For those of you who haven’t connected the dots there yet, both of those two went on to win an NCAA title and one of them indicated to the world, his affinity for ice cream in a funny, classic post-match interview. Matt McDonough won his 3rd title. Another NCAA champ. Future Iowa wrestler and state champ, Dylan Carew was in that bracket. And Nick Moore won his 2nd of four titles.  3A was loaded in 2008.

Hard to believe this was ten years ago already.  Ever wonder what happened to some of these guys? Well, you are about to hear from two of them who entertained the crowd with one of the most intense, hard fought matches that has ever taken place at Wells Fargo Arena. People mention this match as one of the best they’ve seen whenever the topic is brought up, whether on forums or just random conversation. People remember the exact place they were when they think about this match.  This match was right up there with other good matches like Thomsen vs. West, Clark vs. Devos, Farris vs. Peters, Leisure vs. Thompson, Biscoglia vs. Bennett, Carton vs. Sorensen, Drain vs. Wilcke, Wolfensperger vs. Kiley, Fox vs. Roth, Ettelson vs. Naig, Reiter vs. Reiland, Marlin vs. Schmidt, etc. This could very well be one of the most exciting displays of wrestling that has ever taken place at Wells Fargo.

The match was between two returning state champs…Marshall Koethe from Twin River Valley formerly of Akron Westfield VS. Nate Herda from Central Lyon. This took place in the semifinals. I had the pleasure of speaking to both of them about what their feelings/thoughts were before and after the match, their approach, their mindset, the match itself, etc. These two are wonderfully polite people with a ton of mutual respect for each other, which is great to see. However, when they were competing, Herda made it very clear that he was on a mission to break Koethe’s heart, something he had failed to do in their five previous matchups…all of which Koethe won by tech or pin. Those five matches took place when they were freshmen and sophomores. In 2008, they were seniors, so Herda had two years to gear up from the last time Koethe dominated him until their infamous match at state their senior season. Koethe, in the mean time, was trying to stay focused and simultaneously refrain from making life-altering negative decisions in his junior and senior years. He had his battles on the mat, but also had his battles off the mat, something he regrets to this day and now makes it a point in his life to help talented kids that he sees going down a similar path. Some of the off the mat stuff affected Koethe’s training and all the while Herda was coming for him like a grizzly bear. The gap was about to close… and it did.

Coming in, Koethe was widely favored to win the match between he and Herda their senior year. Coming into his senior year, he had placed 2nd, 1st and 1st at state. And most importantly, he dominated Herda every time they wrestled in previous meetings via tech or pin. Herda had an impressive resume early in high school himself. He placed 8th as a freshman, 5th as a sophomore and won state as a junior. Given how good his resume was, that shows you how good Koethe was from the time he started high school wrestling considering he dominated a formidable foe like Herda five times those first two years. Along with this, Koethe closed out AAU in 6th through 8th grade with 2nd, 1st and 1st place finishes. He was clearly and consistently one of the elite guys of the grade. Herda never placed in AAU until 7th grade in which he placed 7th. Seems like things clicked for him as an 8th grader, for he won it that year.

Koethe’s biggest influence growing up was his father, Terry, a former wrestler at Dubuque Hempstead. Koethe said, “He did a great job training me. Did it the right, effective way.”  In terms of influence, Herda mentions Tom Meester. Meester was in my grade and around the same weight and I remember vividly how tough he was. Herda was also influenced by Jason Reitmeier. He describes them as “great coaches, better people.” These guys were the reason that Herda decided to wrestle at Augustana, for they were selfless people who put their athletes first at all times and would sacrifice their personal time to help their athletes at the drop of a hat. Herda stated that Meester molded his wrestling style.

Both wrestlers respected a lot of the same wrestlers in their grade like Nate Moore, Marcus Edgington, Andrew Long (a personal friend of Koethe’s at Iowa State), etc. They both described Nate as being fun to watch.

To make this matchup even more notable, both these guys were from the Sioux/Northwest part of the state. That area doesn’t get much publicity, but their wrestlers are proud of where they are from, as they should be…Koethe and Herda included. They still root for their northwest guys. Koethe’s favorite current wrestlers are Adam Allard and Kory Van Oort, two exceptionally good wrestlers from West Sioux. Herda is a Gable Sieperda (Central Lyon) fan. Sieperda is a great wrestler who is also the best distance runner in the state. Koethe only follows wrestling and enjoys following Dake, Burroughs and Chamizo. He also respects the means in which Penn State promotes the sport. Koethe is an ambassador for wrestling and proud of it. Herda is an Oklahoma Sooners fan who is sad to see Baker Mayfield shipped to the factory of sadness (Cleveland). He was in Columbus at “The Shoe” when Mayfied famously planted the flag. His favorite rivalry in wrestling is Mark Perry vs. Johnny Hendricks.

Both Herda and Koethe felt that summer wrestling was integral to their development and both wrestled freestyle. Koethe was a schoolboy national champ and won a national folkstyle title. Herda placed 6th at FILA one year and would finish with a winning record at Fargo every year.

After high school, Herda was a two time All-American at Augustana, placing as a freshman and sophomore. He just had a couple bad weekends during nationals his Junior and Senior year…not the way he wanted to end his career, but he realizes that the good ultimately outweighed the bad in his career. His favorite wrestler, who was years ahead of him, was Ryan Morningstar.  Koethe wrestled at Iowa State with a group of guys who he describes as being good people with good hearts. He wrestled for Cael and Cody Sanderson with guys like Nate Gallick, Cyler Sanderson, Andrew Long and Nick Fanthorpe. They were all a very supportive squad to one another. He describes his ISU wrestling team as good guys and comrades.  He stated that he wishes he could do that over again, for he was making poor choices (partying, not taking care of himself) at the time and it hindered his development. He feels he could have done better. Now one of his ongoing missions in life is to influence, motivate and encourage kids to make wiser choices, while discussing his own experiences and what he learned kinesthetically by means of unwise decision making. He not only wants to help kids stay on track for wrestling, but for their long term futures in general.

Koethe had a career record of 160-6. He wrestled for Akron Westfield. He then transferred to Twin River Valley as a Senior. Herda was a Central Lyon lifer, in an era where their wrestling fanbase was at their most rabid levels.

Want to see the infamous match that took place their Senior year? Click on the links below.

 

Here are parts 1 and 2 to this unforgettable match

 

If you don’t choose to watch the match via youtube clips, let me summarize the match.  There was a ton of scrambling and fighting for position on their feet. Some powerful shots taken by both guys, in which both scored with.  A lot of grambys by Herda. Very tough riding by Koethe. There was a ton of excitement in the crowd. Koethe scored first via takedown in the first period. Herda responded with a reversal, in which Koetha responded with a reversal of his own to go into the 2nd period with Koethe up 4-2. Koethe started down in the 2nd period and immediately scored an escape to make it 5-2. Herda scored a takedown off his own shot with 25 seconds left in the 2nd period to make it 5-4 Koethe to start the 3rd period with Herda starting in the bottom position. Koethe rode Herda hard and had a cradle locked up at one point that appeared tight. Koethe put a leg in with 4 seconds left in the 3rd, up 5-4 when a stalemate was called. At the restart, Herda hit a powerful gramby that put Koethe to his hip, that Herda, the coaches and the Central Lyon fans thought was a 2 point reversal, but 1 was awarded to send it into OT, likely because the loss of control was RIGHT when time ran out. In the 2nd OT, Koethe scored a quick reversal to lead 7-5. In the 3rd OT, Herda was awarded a point because Koethe scissored Herda’s head to make it 7-6. Herda escaped and they went out of bounds with 6 seconds left to make it 7-7. At the whistle, Koethe shot in and it was countered by Herda and he spun around for the TD and the win at the end of the period. The result was 9-7 Herda in 3 OT’s… Herda went on to win it, Koethe wrestled tough in the consolation side to place 3rd.

Now, to the best part of the article. Here is what both wrestlers have to say about the experience they shared by competing vigorously against each other in this semifinal match at state their senior year.

Let’s start with Marshall Koethe:

Koethe: I have all the respect in the world for Herda and felt like he won fair and square. He wanted it more and deserved it. As much as it devastated me at the time, he deserved it. While I do feel he wrestled a smart, lights-out match, I will acknowledge that I don’t think I was on top of my game coming in. Some pieces just weren’t fitting together like they usually do. I made mistakes that I never made before. For example, I looked at the clock when I had a cradle locked up…I never do that. And a stalemate was called when I looked at the clock. It was unfortunate. I also scissored the head in OT. Some parts just weren’t me. From the moment I stepped on the mat, I had to continuously remind myself to focus. I kept losing focus. And it was so loud from the mob of people watching our specific match that I couldn’t hear anything, so there was a coach-athlete communication barrier.  I also had a lot of distractions going on off of the mat. It was a big ordeal on the forums, papers, etc. I received a lot of negative publicity due to being caught with drug paraphernalia my junior year and failed a urine test during Christmas break. Mistakes I have since learned from:  I was suspended all year my senior year until sectionals. And people were being judgamental, spiteful, vindictive and wishing me ill because of it. It was irritating. Neutral spectators sometimes rooted against me because everyone had heard about my off the mat issues and they just assumed that I was a bad kid, which I wasn’t. I just needed help and encouragement to grow up. I was and am a nice guy. Maybe if they knew that, they’d take the route of trying to help me instead of publicly slamming my entire character/being. I make up for it by taking that route with kids in need of guidance myself now.

SO…. It comes down to this…Herda worked his ass off. He lived a respectable life off the mat. He got whooped bad by me numerous times and beat me when it mattered most, which was our last meeting. Props to him. I worked my ass off in the room, but developed an unhealthy lifestyle off the mat. It all caught up to me and before I could make adjustments, Herda was getting his hand raised after beating me.  I don’t want to use these distractions as excuses. They aren’t excuses…living a healthy lifestyle is part of wrestling and Nate beat me there. So I have no excuses. It’s just what was going on with me at the time. And while I was confused at times out there due to the excessive noise and lack of focus, I was very confident before the match. I knew that I beat him badly five different times by tech or pin every time two short years ago, so that gave me confidence. Plus, I didn’t lose often. However, I was aware of how hard he was working, how healthy of a life he lived and I was certainly not ignorant to the fact that this guy thought about beating me, likely multiple times per day. I have a ton of respect for Nate Herda as a person and wrestler. He earned it. To reiterate, I now prioritize helping kids who may be troubled or headed down a confusing path, for I know how it feels. These people need guidance along with someone to listen to them and I prioritize doing that in life. I don’t want other wrestlers making the same mistakes I did and regretting it for the rest of their lives. Wrestling becomes a part of who you are and it sticks with you, so you don’t want any regrets. Those are my thoughts regarding my match vs. Nate Herda. It was a great match, yes, but I grew from it so there is value in the experience regardless of the outcome on the scoreboard.

And now, Nate Herda:

Herda: To start, my thoughts on Marshall Koethe. I remember him as the enemy all through high school. I spent a lot of energy disliking him and working to beat him. I haven’t talked to him in years, but my friends back home have run into him at little kid wrestling tournament in which now he is a fantastic father and great coach. A positive influence. That match was an incredible experience for me. He contacted me about this interview today, we chatted about the match and our lives now. I wish him nothing, but the best. I think we are both in better places now and that is a good thing. Given the right occasion and circumstances, I would be up for a rematch. I want more than just one win in the series. Would you guys like to see that?

Before the match, I knew him well due to wrestling so much. Although we have closure now and I consider him a great ambassador for the sport, I wouldn’t say that we were friends back then. Wrestling can be too personal given the work everyone puts in and everyone is always trying to take what they think is theirs and you know is yours. So as mentioned, Koethe killed me the previous five times we met and it ticked me off. I hate losing. Losing always sucks. I’ve never gotten used to the feeling of it or learned to handle it. To this day, my family will say I’m a poor sport when I lose at something. So Koethe did his share of making me angry my first two years in high school. Regardless of how pumped and worked up I felt for the match, I knew what happened in the previous matches, but I managed to maintain a confident outlook. I remember taking him down at an old timers tourney in one of our early matches and I truly felt that was the start of me closing the gap. It instilled confidence in me that Koethe was mortal and I knew that I was a different, much better wrestler as a senior than the last time we met. I think he knew this too. My game plan coming in was to keep the match on my feet and force him into bad shots. Ironically, I spent the majority of the match on bottom. He probably rode me for 3+ minutes total. I am thankful that riding time is not awarded in high school. I scored my points when I had to. It was opportunistic. When opportunity presented itself, I scored. Although he was my enemy, I simultaneously had so much respect for how good of a wrestler he was. I mean, he smoked me in previous matchups, so it’d be crazy and ignorant to not respect him. Our styles clashing was interesting. My style was like this: I had a good counter offense and could force people into bad shots because I would move them all over the mat, creating angles that I wanted. I had a good swing single. I struggled on bottom. Take this and clash it with Koethe’s presence of mind, positioning, strength, mat sense and leverage and you will have a good matchup. The match went into double OT. We were both so exhausted. It literally didn’t sink in that I had finally beaten Marshall Koethe until my hand was raised. When my hand was raised, it was one of the best moments of my life. The crowd was euphoric. I have a picture a fan took of my family. To this day, every once in a while, I will just take a moment to look at that picture and remember that great day/moment. There was a lot of joy for our family that day.  Since then, I have continued to respect Koethe more and more. He had some off the mat problems that he received a lot of negative attention from, but that added to the situation. He was and is a good guy. I am so impressed with the father, coach and ambassador for the sport that he has become.

Towards the end of my career, I put a lot of pressure on myself for no reason. Wrestling is fun. I miss it so much and wish I could do it again with the realization of how fun it is. I wish I would have believed in myself a bit more and not taken it so seriously. At least three out of the four years, I didn’t torture myself by cutting too much weight. I did that my sophomore year and promised my parents I would never do it again. It adds stress to a fun sport, its unhealthy and I ended up winning two state titles while not over-cutting.

My teammates were wonderful in every sport. Jordan Gacke, Scott Eben, etc. They weren’t just awesome teammates in wrestling. We were great on the football and track fields too. We won state football when I was a junior. Another great experience and wrestling obviously helps tremendously for other sports. Have fun in this fun sport and appreciate it and seize every opportunity as they present themselves. No half measures. I worked very hard and learned those last three years that summer wrestling is crucial to success on the mat. It diversifies your skillset. I got to the point where I would do anything and everything just to get a work out in. Mrs. Meester would open the wrestling room so I could work out in my free time, sometimes by myself. Coach Van Beek and De Boer would help me with a lot of this. I owe a lot of my success to my coaches and wrestling supporters.

If there is any advice I could give to the youngsters, it’d be this: Enjoy wrestling. It’ll be over before you know it. Work hard, listen to your parents and coaches. Believe in yourself and ask why it can’t be you. It took me so long to fully believe that and I’m not so sure it happened. Be proud of youself for wrestling. It is not easy and people know that and will respect you for getting through it. Very few people are successful at wrestling. Someday, leaders or your boss will expect more out of you since you were a wrestler and that is a good thing. Take pride in that. You will always outwork everyone because that is what wrestlers do.

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What happened in the match between Brandon Mason and the Michigan kid who “wanted” to wrestle him at AAU Nationals in this Intro is one of my all-time favorite personal wrestling stories.

So way back in the day,2000, I think, Veterans Memorial Auditorium hosted a pretty big wrestling tournament a couple weeks AFTER hosting the notoriously electric Iowa High School state wrestling tournament. This was the AAU National Folkstyle Wrestling Championships. That tourney hosted several epic matchups with unexpected results that have since kind of faded from most people’s memories.

Anyways, the Mepo-Burlington hybrid wrestling crew that I was part of my whole wrestling life had a block of rooms at the Savery Hotel, I believe…One of those hotels that you can get to from the skywalk. Early on in the weekend, my brother Justin, Chris Johnson, Phillip Klees, Aaron Drain, Micah Keller, Josh Keller and I were randomly stumbling through the halls of our hotel when we came across the Lewis Central crew. My brother stopped and talked to them which stuck out to me, for I was generally the more social brother when it came to wrestlers from other schools, so I knew Justin must have liked these guys a lot, in order for him to initiate a big Lewis Central-Mepo crew conversation.  And once I realized that it was the Lewis Central crew, I knew what was up… Justin loved those guys. Ya see, the Summer before, he had gotten to know a lot of them, for he spent the night at the Paulson twins’ house for a week so he could attend a Keith Massey camp. And one of these guys we were talking to at the hotel was Trent Paulson… I never had a difficult time telling Trent and Travis apart, for I had watched them compete in the semis at AAU state with my best friend, Aaron Drain, for years. Plus, they addressed me differently. Trent went from referring to me as “the Bigger Swafford,” to simply, “Big Swaff” our last couple years in high school. Travis always knew me as, “I think that’s Justin Swafford’s brother.” 🙂 I am about 75% he would say this just to razz me a bit, for I had seen them act squirrelly like that with other wrestlers and quite frankly, the Paulson Twins were absolutely hilarious people.

So I want to say we were talking to Trent, Gabe Rostermundt, Aaron Smith and a couple other guys I didn’t know. However, one that I knew for sure was a guy named Brandon Mason, who was relaxing on a bed in their hotel room, watching Bugs Bunny and appearing to be having the time of his life. I knew Mason, for in the middle of a stretch where Justin won like 125 straight matches and racked up 3 AAU titles, he didn’t have a blemish at state with an exception of his 4th grade year where he was beaten by a kid named Henry Wahle from Underwood in the quarterfinals and that kid eventually lost to Brandon Mason, who won the bracket. The kid seriously showed up out of nowhere…and no one seemed to ever have a solution in terms of beating him. He was freaking good. And there he was a month after winning a state title as a Freshman in HS, laughing his tail off to Bugs Bunny and not caring in the slightest if anyone thought he was silly for doing so.  I knew I respected Mason from that moment… a guy who was willing to be himself even if it may have come off as “dorky” to others and could punish anyone who dared give him crap about it on the mat… Yeah, I thought it was cool… and it was reassuring to see someone besides Justin, Drain and I watching a cartoon like that and shamelessly having a good time in doing so.  

After a few minutes of shooting the bull with these guys, a group of Michigan wrestlers approached us and we all looked at each other’s hands to see what weights we were all wrestling at, for our weights and divisions were written on our hands. One of those guys were in Mason’s bracket. We pointed Brandon out to this guy and there he was, still sitting on the bed watching Bugs Bunny and chuckling…without a care in the world. The Michigan kid made the comment, “hell, I HOPE I wrestle THAT guy…I’ll have the fastest pin of the tournament if I do!” Trent Paulson’s reaction to this was epic. His face formed the most subtle of smirks and he replied, “I don’t blame you. That kid is a pud. Our workout dummy. You should try to shoot for the fastest pin of the tournament when you wrestle him.” And the Michigan guy just nodded his head and laughed, not knowing how utterly facetious Trent’s response was. If I didn’t know who Brandon was, I wouldn’t have caught on to it myself.

The next day, the Michigan kid and Brandon Mason DID meet up. The result? I couldn’t tell you any specifics, but Mason OBLITERATED him. And we all laughed our asses off. IT WAS AWESOME! I always, ALWAYS root for the Iowa guys on the national level and watching him do this to a kid who was laughing at him the day before, it was great. I ran into Mason and his dad on the skywalk and told them how awesome I thought that was and proceeded to have an hour long conversation with both of them. Great people… Very intelligent. I talked to Brandon’s dad probably 10X more than I talked to Brandon himself. 

Brandon Mason didn’t give people the vibe that most 3-4 time state champion/future D1 guys did. Not that he didn’t look like a wrestler. He just didn’t share a lot of the same characteristics as a lot of your world-beaters do. He wasn’t physically imposing. He was freakishly strong, but didn’t look like an ox. Heck, Mason won state as a Freshman in 2001 at 3A 135 and looked like a skinny little kid in doing so. He wasn’t a real intense guy to talk to either. He was very friendly to everyone. In fact, a 3rd string JV guy with no wins could approach the guy and talk to him and he’d carry on a conversation with them as if they were equals in wrestling skill level. My brother once made the comment, “Brandon Mason is more likely to converse with people in the weigh-in line about the anatomy of weight cutting than he is to converse about how thirsty he is or about anything wrestling.” The dude always walked to the beat of his own drum and in Brandon Mason’s case, the beat of his drum was like taking John Bonham from Led Zeppelin to a rinky-dinky Battle of the Bands contest.

So let’s catch up with Brandon Mason…one of the best Iowa high school wrestlers to grace the mat. I have produced tons of these articles by now and have gotten to the point where I have no idea how I’d answer some of the standard questions… for example, my GOAT changes all the time…  Of course there are the “no-brainer” 4-timers that the best arguments can be made for, but then again… there are guys who won less than 4, sometimes just 1 and I never saw anyone wrestle than them as they did when they won it.  Take Cory Connell for example.  He only won one title. It seemed like he was always a close Ryan Heim-type loss away before his Senior year. However, I can’t say I’ve seen someone whose skills were more polished than his when he was a Senior. Wil Kelly from Wahlert is another that just amazed me as an upperclassmen. He won 3. Jason Kelber, Kent Streicher, Chad Zaputil, etc. So much depends on when they wrestled, where they wrestled, who they wrestled, what weight they started out as, etc.  Heck, you can make an argument for several Lewis Central guys. Dave Kjeldgaard, both Paulson twins as well as Jimmy Waters, etc. One of the Paulson’s actually were stopped by Connell when Connell was a Senior, Paulson’s were Sophomores. Jimmy Waters is definitely up there for “best multi-sporter wrestler of all time.” An argument can also be made for Brandon Mason. If you take into consideration, the weight he started at as a Freshman (a lot of middle and upper weight guys get left out in the GOAT conversation) being 135, which is tough for anyone, let alone a Freshman, the dominating fashion in which Mason defeated guys, the resumes of the guys he would beat, etc… Sometimes, I feel like the GOAT argument is pointless unless you separate them into weight-ranges…lower, middle and upper. If you factor that in, Brandon Mason is one of the best ever middle weight wrestlers in Iowa HS wrestling history.

 

When did you start wrestling?

I was 6 years old when I started. My dad took me to a wrestling tournament somewhere in southwest Iowa and I got 2nd place in the round robin tournament (lost to Dane Petersen) and I was hooked. Thomas Sweeney asked me to join the Panther wrestling club after the tournament.

 

How did you do in youth wrestling?

I had a successful youth wrestling career. I didn’t have a specific rival.

 

What was your record in HS?

195-2

 

How did you do at state each year?

1st, 3rd, 1st, 1st

 

What was the highpoint of your HS wrestling career?

Being on a team that set the record for most champions in 2001 with 6 champs and also winning the state team championship my senior year as significant underdogs in the team race.

 

What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

To Anthony Watson at state, Sophomore year. It hurt a lot. The goal is to be a state champion on top of that podium in the barn. When you put in the time and effort training it hurts when you don’t accomplish your goals.

 

Do you have any family members who wrestled?

No.

 

Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

Wrestling was year round for me

 

How would you describe your wrestling style?

I was aggressive and pushed the pace. I was also pretty good in the top position.

 

If you could change one thing about your HS wrestling tenure, what would it be?

For high school I would like to have not lost that match at state to Anthony.

 

Did you wrestle after high school?

Yes, I wrestled at Oklahoma State University.

 

Who is the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler of all time?

That is a tough one since there are so many quality wrestlers who have wrestled in Iowa. The one that comes to mind first is Jeff McGinness as he was a 4x state champ and I believe won a JR world title also.

 

Who was your most influential coach?

I had many influential coaches thru my career from youth wrestling all the way into college where I was coached by John Smith. I was fortunate to have two excellent high school coaches during my time at Lewis Central in Keith Massey and Chad Beaman who both took the time to put in extra work with me outside of practice. For all the coaches who have helped me throughout the years thank you.

 

How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

It has helped me stand out in my medical career as someone who doesn’t cut corners and who can be relied upon. Plus because of wrestling things most people think are tough aren’t that bad for me. As the saying goes once you have wrestled everything else is easier.

 

What kind of music do you listen to?

I usually listen to Country music; however, sometimes I will put on some 90’s rock or rap while I work.

 

What do people in Oklahoma think of Iowa wrestling?

This is a difficult question. I think that educated wrestling fans appreciate good wrestling no matter who is on the singlet. I think most people down here think the coaching staffs up in Iowa (Iowa, ISU, and UNI) are doing a great job and have had their wrestlers wrestling really well. All that being said people from Oklahoma probably won’t be cheering for someone in an Iowa singlet any time soon.

Most notable competitors for you?

Honestly I didn’t wrestle the same person too many times in my high school career. I had some battles with Ben Stedman my freshman year where all the matches were pretty close. The loss I took my sophomore year at state to Watson I wrestled him again the next week, but those were the only two times we wrestled.

What do you do now?

After finishing my wrestling career I went to medical school at OSU-CHS. Following medical school I got into a radiology residency and then did a Body MRI fellowship. I am now a Radiologist in Stillwater Oklahoma at Stillwater Medical Center. I also travel with the OSU wrestling team as a doctor for them.

Are you still involved with wrestling?

I travel with the OSU wrestling team when my hospital schedule permits. I also go up to the wrestling room from time to time and will seldomly get on the mat with some of the guys. I did miss wrestling quite a bit the 10 years of my medical training.

Do you think John Smith is the greatest wrestler of all time?

I think accomplishments speak loudly. Because of this I think John is the greatest freestyle/greco roman wrestler from the USA. Collegiate wise it is hard to argue against Cael. Overall best wrestler of all time is difficult with so many multiple time world and Olympic champions out there for other countries mostly the former USSR and Russia. Some of my favorites were Arsen Fadzayev and Buvaisar Saitiev.

Is John Smith a cool person?

Yes, he is a great guy and family man. He cares about all of his current and former wrestlers. He would check in on me from time to time while I was in my medical training. He asked me to travel with the team as soon as I moved back to Stillwater.

How would Lewis Central of the early 00’s stack up against powerhouses today?

That is also a difficult question as I’m not a fan of hypotheticals. The team from my freshman year (2000-2001) I think would have been extremely competitive against any Iowa high school team since then. We ended the season ranked number 2 in the nation to arguably the best high school team ever up at Blair (Mocco, Esposito, Perry, Cooperman, and etc.) We also had 6 state champions that year which is a record that still stands and I am proud to be a part of.

 

Who were your practice partners at each level (youth, HS and college) and how did they help shape you into the wrestler you were/are? Anyone who stuck out as being most influential to you?

During my time in youth and my early high school years I had many successful wrestlers around me that would push me to be more successful. For example, my teammates from my freshman team at Lewis Central were extremely important to me. All 13 of the other varsity wrestlers as well and the other guys on the team who pushed us. I don’t have one specific influential wrestler, I am grateful for everyone on my journey.

 

Did you play any other sports? If so, how did you do at them?

No, I just wrestled.

 

Are you married? Got kids? Do they wrestle?

Married with 3 daughters.

 

Do you have any hobbies off the mat?

Not many hobbies with 3 little girls in the house. I enjoy golfing and fishing when I get a chance.

 

Do you have any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

Wrestling is the greatest sport. Put in the work and enjoy the ride. The work you put in on the mat will help you with everything throughout your life.

 

Any chance we could see a rematch with you and any of your rivals at an old man’s tournament?

I would say one in a billion… (So you’re saying there’s a chance!

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Remember The Wrestler: Kevin Swafford, Mediapolis

Kevin Swafford of Mediapolis in blue on top against state runner-up Al Melcher of Fairfield.

A little home-cooking, eh? Well, if that’s the case, be thankful because Kevin is awesome. Kevin Swafford is a legend to all 4 of us Swafford brothers. An absolute legend. From the time of my earliest memories, I remember thinking to myself, “this guy is so cool.” He is one of my favorite and most influential people in my life. Kevin is my uncle. My dad, Mark’s older brother. It was Kevin and his twin brother, Brian that started the whole “Swafford wrestling” thing. This was followed by them getting my father, to follow their lead.  The Swafford’s were basketball players before them.

Kevin was the first ever Mediapolis wrestler to win a match at the state tournament in 1977. He was also great at other sports, most notably baseball.  Kevin impressed a few people so much with his athletic talent in High School to where was talked about for decades after he graduated. Heck, it wasn’t uncommon for me to hear a “Kevin” story when I was in HS in the late 90’s/early’00’s. Apparently he hit a baseball over the press box in center field and over storage shed behind the right-center fences. Those were shots!  If you ever talk to his friends from high school, most of them who haven’t seen him in years because he doesn’t come back to Mediapolis very often, all kind of have the same way of describing him.  They’ll raise their eyebrows and say, “your uncle Kevin was just…..awesome. Seriously one of the coolest friends I ever had and an incredible athlete.”  I heard this a lot.  

Justin and I have memories dating back to when we were little where Kevin would hang out with us two and go to Lake Geode, drive around on gravel, hang out and he would always talk to us about how our lives were going.  It was different with Kevin because he was this adult, who everyone we were around a lot seemed to idolize and here he is, talking to us kids as if we are at the same level as him. Talked to us kids as if we were human beings and listened to every word we had to say to him.  Throughout our lives, he always made it a point to assure us that he loved us. “You are my little brother’s sons! My blood! I will always love you guys and will always be there for you,” he would say. And he meant it…and we knew it.

Kevin had a knack for getting people (I assume) to believe in themselves.  I assume this because he got ME to believe in MYself. Because HE believed in us. Like HOF NCAA Basketball HC Jimmy Valvano said in his infamous speech. Having someone believe in you is one of the best gifts you can receive. And in Kevin’s case, he was the only one who I could tell believed in me so much that I couldn’t help, but believe in myself as well.  I alluded to one of these stories in my article on Jeremiah Butteris. About 90% of the struggles I ever had on the mat were attributed to nerves, anxiety, panic… and it seemed as if it were impossible to control. It really felt like I couldn’t help it.  Then Kevin would start talking to me and all the sudden I felt like the baddest man on the planet and guess what?! I became the baddest man on the planet. It was night and day. I am serious when I say this… I don’t think I ever lost a single match ever under Kevin’s guidance and tutelage.  He took over for me two years in a row at AAU State where I lost early in the tournament. “I got this,” he’d say. Both years I dominated all the way back for 3rd place.  Any time I had Kevin as my own personal Mr. Miyagi, I won. He was a miracle worker, seriously.  And he played a huge role in Justin’s success in high school.  Justin’s routine in high school was to get done with wrestling practice and would drive 25 minutes to Kevin’s house near Danville, IA. Justin would lift weights in Kevin’s basement 3-5 times per week and would talk with Kevin, “The Wrestler Whistler” and it paid huge dividends for Justin. Justin wouldn’t have been as accomplished as he was in high school if it were not for the influence of Uncle Kevin.  I say that with 100% confidence. My biggest EVER regret from wrestling is not ever riding along with Justin to these workouts. Looking back, it was straight-up stupid of me not to.  I knew the impact that Kevin had on me and I knew how much of a barrier I could be to myself when it came to match preparation.  Kevin could literally fix that just by speaking to me. I should have leapt at that.  But instead, I went out with whichever girl it was at the time and/or just goofed off with Aaron Drain or whoever every night. I wish I could take that back. Kevin would have made a heckuva coach.

It was a good day when Kevin told me a few weeks ago that he was reading the website diligently every single day and that he was a fanatic of it. He spends a ton of time here and has a lot of fun when he does.  Other than my brother, Justin, I don’t think I have any family members who do regularly read what I post, which is fine, but it meant the world to hear this from Kevin, for I always looked up to him so much.

I am a huge fan of the early 90’s TV show, The Wonder Years. In that show, the main character’s name is “Kevin.” There were 115 episodes of that show made. I have watched every episode at least once and some of them 10+ times. I either have The Wonder Years theme song in my head and/or watch an episode of it before every time I write one of these because it puts me in the mood to do so.  Yet, when I hear the name, “Kevin,” I don’t think “Kevin Arnold.” I think “Uncle Kevin” in a flash. There is not a single soul in the world that I respect more than Uncle Kevin. 

Another cool thing about him is that he reminds me of my Grandpa Robert Swafford, who died in 2010…and we all miss terribly to this day. And if any of you have ever wondered where I get this writing bug, whether it’s hereditary or something I just picked up, well you are about to get your answer.  I have written tens of thousands of long, detailed articles and posts on message boards and what not these past couple decades. It is probably interesting that none of my other family members have ever really done that.  Justin is more into writing music. I don’t think he’s ever written a post or an article that seemed to pertain to sports in any way. Brennan and Shea have never shown this either.  Mom, Dad…nah.  My dad has posted a few times when someone on a message board has upset him, but that’s about it.  So where do I get this passion to write about wrestling from?  Welp, strap on your seatbelt and you will find out!

Oh, and I’m biased, but I firmly believe that if Kevin, Brian and my dad (Mark) would have begun wrestling earlier in life, they would have won 2-4 titles apiece. Heck, I witnessed Brian just lighting up a few of the area’s standout, state champ level wrestlers when he was well into his 30’s, maybe 40’s. All 3 of them… get them started in youth and they win multiple times. I have no doubt about that.

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