This was originally supposed to be an Inside The Rivalry with both Josh Budke and Jesse West’s takes, but I can’t get a response from Jesse West and Budke has had his turned in for a long time now. Budke’s takes are so interesting and insightful, not to mention he obviously worked his tail off on it given how well thought-out his responses were… I would be silly to not find a way to use this content, for what he turned in is really good stuff. I refuse to let this stuff go to waste. I decided that I will write an article with Budke’s perspective, and if Jesse West reads it and would like to provide his own input, then maybe there will be a Part 2: Jesse West Weighs In. I sure hope so.
A rather big storyline of the 1997 Iowa HS State Wrestling Tournament was a highly anticipated 3A 130 lb. finals match with Iowa City High Senior, Jesse West and Cedar Falls Senior, Josh Budke.. 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 there, but back in 1997, the act of someone transferring for wrestling seemed like such an uncommon, foreign idea that the transfers weren’t treated like the rest of the Iowan wrestlers by the general spectators, but treated 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!!!” People got ugly with it. Transfers received very cold unwelcomes back then and in retrospect, it wasn’t fair to them. Not to sound holier than thou, for I have been guilty of being overly unwelcoming of transfers myself until about 5-6 years ago, when something that changed my mind about it.
With all that said and no offense to Jesse West, he is probably a great guy, but most Iowan wrestling crews at the time were entrenched in the Budke corner of that rivalry if they had a preference at all in the matter. There were some fans sprinkled here and there who were rooting against Budke because they were rivals with him or their school was rivals with Cedar Falls, but generally speaking, the only people who seemed to be in the Jesse West corner were people from the IC High/Matpac community and those who actually knew him.. This was at a time where being an out of state transfer wrestler in Iowa was near it’s peak in terms of not being a good experience for them. There are transfers even today who experience the “you aren’t an actual Iowan” treatment from Iowa wrestling fans, but the hate is not nearly as vocal, open and widespread as it used to be. So there was a bit of chippiness among fans when they wrestled. It was a pretty big deal at the time.
HERE IS THE MATCH VIDEO TO THE FINALS MATCH. IF WEST PARTAKES IN THIS IN THE FUTURE, I WILL TRY TO FIND A MATCH FROM THE REGULAR SEASON TO BE FAIR.
STARTING OFF WITH BACKGROUND INFO-RELATED Q/A FROM BUDKE AND WILL LEAD INTO JESSE WEST RIVALRY
What was your overall record in HS?
JOSH BUDKE: 155-11… 7 losses as a Freshman, 1 as a Sophomore and then the 3 losses Senior year to Jesse.
What were your high school state results?
4th as a Freshman at 103
1st as a Sophomore at 103
1st as a Junior at 112
1st as a Senior at 125
What was the highpoint of your HS wrestling career?
Winning State Senior year along with the team title are major highlights.
The highpoint that stands out was the Dream Team Classic (Iowa vs. US national team) the spring of my senior year. First time they held the event and it was at Waterloo West where I grew up wrestling.
I had a close match but won 4-0 and the place was unbelievably loud. It was great meeting the other Iowa kids and the National team kids also.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
I have mentioned this here prior, but I was a terrible loser. It is such a hard sport and you take it personally but there are plenty of top-notch guys who lose with grace – that was not me.
The Jesse West loses were all hard to take. The other ones that stand out for me were at some of national freestyle tournaments. I was close a couple times to be an all-American and lost some close matches that still bother me.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
The first time I went to an AAU event was 5th grade and I did not qualify.
I ended up 4th at AAU State as a 6th grader.
I did not place in 7th grade.
I ended up 5th at AAU State as an 8th grader.
Lot of good kids in those brackets and wish I had a copy of those! (lot of state champs and place winners)
A couple rivals of note.
JD Pugh from Columbus Junction always got the best of me growing up. I do not remember ever beating him!
Brandon Livingood from Decorah was another guy who beat me way more than I got him.
Did you wrestle after high school?
Wrestled at the University of Iowa. I made some friends I still have today and a lot of life experience that is for sure. I had a few varsity matches as a sophomore and as a Senior but was never the top guy at the weight class. Disappointing college career.
Who was your most influential coach?
Cedar Falls had some great coaches and I never thanked them all enough for everything they did!
Gene Doyle, Ken Gallagher, Jeff Gard, Jay Llewellyn, Trainor, Olmstead to name a few coaches over my 4 years.
Paul Huffman was the guy who took me under his wing and made the difference in my wrestling. He taught me how to leg the right way and spent a ton of extra time with me and it made the difference in my career without a doubt.
Who was your most influential wrestler?
Hard to pick one. I would say Tony Wieland was someone I looked up to and kept me from getting beat up as a little 103 pounder! Huge guy, multiple state champ and college all-American but was as nice as they come. Another guy I never thanked enough for looking after me.
The other is Nick Flach helping me out Senior year against West. Not 100% clear why he did but really cool of a college kid to reach out and help a guy he did not know.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestled currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
I had a couple uncles on my mom’s side that were state place winners at Cedar Falls.
My little brother was a stud athlete at Cedar Falls but never wrestled. He has a little boy who just started in their kids wrestling club in Cedar Falls.
My youngest is now wrestling here in Cedar Rapids and he loves it.
I also have a nephew at Ballard-Huxley who is wrestling in high school and doing a great job.
Who are your favorite current HS wrestlers?
I do not follow HS super close but Linn-mar had a good year with some tough kids so that was great to see.
Was your team competitive?
We were very competitive. Cedar Falls in the 1990’s had some great wrestlers and some great teams before and after I was wrestling there. (In the 90’s CF won state team titles 3 times, a runner up and 4th place finish. We had some good state dual results also)
We were state champs my Senior year and won back to back to back individual titles, so a lot of credit goes to my teammates that year. Adam Eichhorn and Eric Sinclair both had great careers at Cedar Falls, were state champs that year and were great work out partners.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
I always say it was boring! I was tough on top mainly riding legs. I was solid on bottom. I was never a great technician on my feet. Preferred getting into a scramble or front headlocks.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
Plenty of things but I regret the tournaments I did not go to the most, even over some of the loses.
My senior year I should have gone out to Senior Nationals and then I also did not go out to Fargo for Junior Nationals. Both decisions I regret. I tell my kids all the time that it is ok to fail, but you will regret not trying and not going for what you want far more.
The other thing I have mentioned a couple times but keeping Wrestling in perspective. Wrestling is a great sport, but it is still just a sport. I would have been a better wrestler (especially in College) if I could have kept a better mentality around that. Learn from your loses and get better but do not let it define who you are as a person.
What was your best wrestling memory/accomplishment?
So many great memories and great teammates from my kids club all the way thru college.
Accomplishment wise, I would say looking back that going from a pretty mediocre wrestler as a kid and junior high wrestler to putting things together in high school and being a state champion. My goal was always to win state, but I always questioned if that was possible. Now I try telling my own kids to be patient as they develop in their own sports and activities. Where they are at today, skill wise and in comparison, to their peers, is not where they will end up if they keep working and getting better!
It was also a really great experience getting into the High School hall of Fame and having my older kids with my wife and I out in the middle of the mat. (My wife was a wrestling cheerleader, so we are high school sweethearts. At the hall of fame, she was pregnant with our twins) My head coach, Gene Doyle was inducted the same year so that was special also.
How hard did you work? Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
One of my strengths was my conditioning and I worked hard at that. No regrets about the amount of work I put in. I was not the most talented, by a long way, so I closed that gap via hard work.
I did wrestle all year round and I did wrestle freestyle (but not very well) I wrestled in one (and only one) Greco tournament so I could weigh in early for freestyle. Poor choice but a couple funny stories from it.
What other sports did you play?
Growing up I played about everything, just not very well. After 7th grade I focused on wrestling and that was the only thing I did in high school. Really wished I would have run cross country my senior year in high school.
What are your favorite sports teams?
I follow the Hawkeyes and the Chicago Cubs
What are your hobbies?
With 5 great kids, a very supportive wife and a busy career my hobbies have taken a back seat the past few years. I did get back into shape a few years back doing Triathlons and accomplished a goal of mine in doing Ironman Louisville in 2010 which was awesome.
Coaching the kids has been a highlight for me and I would encourage every parent to get into coaching. Lots of great stories there 😊
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
I was really a shy quiet kid and wrestling gave me my identity when I was growing up. The work ethic and grit you learn and earn in this sport translates over to the rest of your life. I am grateful for all the lessons this sport taught me.
It also can be very damaging if you do not keep winning and losing in perspective so finding a balance is super important in my opinion.
What do you do now? Are you still involved with wrestling?
I coached at Cedar Rapids Washington for several years and loved it. As my family grew that took a priority so I stopped. Now my youngest is getting into the sport so we will see where that takes us.
I work at The Accel Group, which is an insurance broker here in Iowa. Great company and great people. A lot of old wrestlers in the group which is fun.
When did you first wrestle Jesse West? Ever meet up in youth wrestling. How long did the rivalry last?
He may not remember this, but our first-time wrestling was in the Iowa Wrestling room. It was in the fall right before the season started. Royce Alger was running the high school club that year and he paired us together one Sunday practice (on purpose I am sure) I had no idea who he was but everyone one else was done and running and we were still going until someone got a takedown. I still remember we went for a while without a score, but I hit an inside trip to a double and finally scored on him. When I learned he was at City High and wrestling 125 that year I knew it was going to be a battle. He transferred in that year from Kansas, so I did not know him until we were both Seniors in high school. He would drop a weight in college, and I moved up a weight, so we never ran into each other after that. I do remember rooting for him against Leroy Vega later that summer at a freestyle tournament and wanted to see him succeed when we were not going up against each other.
What were the overall results between you and your Jesse? Where did you wrestle, and which matches stuck out as being most intense or most important?
We wrestled four matches our Senior year. One win on my side and three wins on his. They were all close.
– Keith Young finals I lost right at the end of the match. I gave up a reversal, got an escape and could not get a takedown.
– Later in the year at the City High, Cedar falls dual meet I lost in double overtime.
– MVC Conference final was a 1-point loss to him.
– State Finals, overtime was my only win.
Both, Keith Young and the dual meet were held in the Cedar Falls gym so those losses really hurt in front of my home crowd. The dual was packed for that meet.
(Random note but our conference tournament was held at Linn-mar and my kids go to school there, so I still think about that loss 😊 The loss my sophomore year was also at Linn-mar so I’ve pointed out to my kids where I broke my headgear after that one)
Not necessarily more important but the first loss at Keith Young broke a pretty good winning streak for me and made me question staying at 125. I started thinking about going up to 130 to avoid him.
How confident were you coming into each match? Did you ever have to battle any nerves when wrestling him?
I had a good tournament going into the finals at Keith Young and beat a couple good kids, so I felt pretty good. I was always nervous. Every match, every time. Looking back now, I was a little too high strung and took wrestling way to seriously.
What did you know about Jesse coming into the first match you had with him?
I knew he was a 2-time state champ, from Kansas and from our time at the Hawkeye club I knew it was going to be a tough match.
What was the best/closest match you and Jesse had?
Hard to pick one since they were all good battles, but I should choose our state finals match since I won that one. 😊
What was your game plan against him?
During the regular season I should have game planned more and I did not have a plan. I just took the attitude that I would wrestle my match and I would beat him, not a great strategy obviously.
The first time I really put together a game plan was for state. Nick Flach (at UNI at the time) offered to help me and he came up with a plan for me. Basically, the plan was this. Keep running back to the middle and try to make conditioning a factor and 2) no crab rides, minimal legging. During our first three matches he would reverse me each time I tried. If you look at the finals match it looks like he was waiting for me to crab ride, instead I kept sucking him back so the plan worked right up until the end. I avoided it most of the match but when I tried it with 5 seconds left, he put me in a lot of trouble again. Thankfully, they ruled it an escape and not the reversal.
Do you know Jesse off the mat?
No and I wish I would have tried. Back then he was such a rival/threat and someone trying to achieve what I was trying to achieve that I did not like him. He was probably a great guy.
Did you respect their wrestling skills?
Absolutely! I underestimated how tough he was on top and I struggled to get out. He was hard to score on and most of our matches were low scoring.
How did you feel when you won?
Only happened once, but it was at the right time. Combination of relief and excitement. After giving up the last second point to go into overtime I was so panicked I just kept telling myself not to blow it after I had the win locked up. I do have to say I should have prepared for the post-match interview. That must be one of the worst interviews of all time! Super painful to watch.
How did you feel when you lost?
After our first match at Keith Young, I remember Mark and Mike Schwab (Mike was at Don Bosco and Mark was at Minnesota coaching I believe) pulling me aside. They were trying to give me some pointers after that first lost and I could not pull myself together. In general, I took losing way too hard and I was not very mature about it. The way I handled losing would be a regret of mine.
Any chance we could see a rematch with you and Jesse at an old man’s tournament?
Sounds like a terrible idea! I can get talked into most things so never say never, but my money is on Jesse if that happens.
Is there anything else you would like to add? Advice? Entertaining information. Interesting facts. Cool things about life? Cool things about wrestling? Funny stories?
Couple other random stories to our last match at State. The grand march before finals. Everyone walks out with their weight class. Really cool experience and was blessed to have the opportunity each year to walk. Well, what I thought was an upspoken rule was that each finalist was on the opposite end of their row so basically you are apart from each other. Not sure if it was his coach’s idea or his but he stood right next to me during the grand march. I am sure they were trying to get into my head. I was so mad at first and then it struck me that it was intentional, so I started talking to him instead to show it did not bother me. I think it was the only time we ever spoke to each other!
2nd part to this. I realized pretty quickly that he was watching me warm up and again not sure if it was him or his coaches but it looked like he was going to shadow what I was doing, even in warms ups.
I am guessing since I had been there. So, it goes back to the conditioning game plan…. While warming up I was behind some partial walls in the basement of vets. Again, I noticed he was watching me so I decided I would sprint where he could see me and then stop and walk when I was behind the wall. I saw him sprinting every time I was so I figured I would try and wear him out before the match if I could keep him running. There is a lot of time to warm up before finals and you can wear yourself out if you are not careful.
Another random fact is that was the 2nd year in a row I wrestled an Iowa City High guy who transferred. Joe Lucchi transferred back to Iowa City my Junior year. I beat him in the finals at the Keith Young tournament at 112, so he ended up dropping down to 103. He beat Cliff Moore in the state finals that year, essentially keeping Cliff from being a 4-time champ. I would say that started the wave of transferring we would see become more prevalent years later. Reiland over at City West certainly had his fair share but Brad Smith started it 😊
Did Jesse being a Kansas transfer put any fuel on the competitive fire for you or was that something that did not matter?
It was more about getting beat by him then where he was from. I just remember going into the season thinking it was going to be a fun year and my goal was to dominate. I did not see any real threats at the weight class, so this was my year to have some fun. That changed quick.
Were you able to pick up on the General spectators rooting for you because you were the Iowa homegrown guy?
Yes and no.
Funny story here but some of the Waterloo West cheerleaders asked me for a senior picture and I said no. (I was worried my girlfriend, also a cheerleader would get mad – side note, 24 years later were still married) Well they thought I was a jerk (rightfully so) so they were huge West fans and were very vocal in their support of him.
I would say otherwise I did get some “homegrown” support and a lot of “you can’t let some Kansas kid beat you” stuff from people. I received a ton of cards and notes after the state tournament from people, so the support was awesome.