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Inside the Rivalry:Nick Lee (Columbus Jct.) vs. Joe Reiter (Gilbertville-Don Bosco)

Nick Lee

Eddie, Bart, Mack and Joe Reiter


This next rivalry is between a couple of guys who  met in the 1998 and 1999 seasons and were produced by a couple of the state’s historical powerhouse wrestling teams. In fact, if you consider Nick Lee’s roots, there were three powerhouses affiliated with this rivalry. Joe Reiter was from Gilbertville Don Bosco. One of the most successful 1A schools of all time. A school that is basically synonymous with wrestling. Nick Lee was from Morning Sun and very proud of it, but wrestled for Columbus Junction. Columbus Junction, at the time was at the peak of their legendary roll. Columbus Junction won traditional state in 1995 and 1997…in both 1A and 2A. Along with that, they won state duals in 1996, 1998 and 1999. With that said, for five years in a row, Columbus Jct. won either state duals or traditional state as a team. And Nick was part of four of those teams from 1996-1999. As of 2018, Don Bosco has earned 9-10 state dual championships as well as 9-10 traditional state titles. No matter what, they will always rebuild and reload… and they are good at doing so, for they have alumni like Joe Reiter who continues to improve the program any way that he can.

Nick Lee is from Morning Sun and grew up wrestling for the Morning Sun youth program. Morning Sun was brought into the limelight by a man named Bob Darrah in 1962 who had a dual record of 50-3 at Morning Sun, prior to heading for Urbandale and then Des Moines Dowling, where he solidified his legendary wrestling coaching status by finishing his high school career with a record of 340 wins, 17 losses and 2 ties. He paved the way for another wrestling powerhouse  in a roundabout way. Al Baxter wrestled for the Darrah-led Tigers of Morning Sun and won a state title for them. Baxter, famously began a program that became a powerhouse in itself, Lisbon…the most decorated 1A wrestling school in Iowa history. Morning Sun also produced another Hall of Famer, the “voice of college wrestling” himself, Tim Johnson, who was 95-12 with a state appearance in 1970. There is a smorgasboard of wrestling history at Morning Sun. After the departure of Darrah, the fort in Morning Sun was steadily maintained again by an intense, cross-armed and moustached man named John Siegel, who was well known for his intensity along with his cunning ability to adapt his style of coaching to each person, pending on what methods work best for that particular kid. He is known to be a genius when it comes to the ever-important mental component of wrestling. He amassed a dual meet record of 143-17 at Morning Sun and is, to this day, considered a legend in the small town of Morning Sun. Morning Sun not only discontinued their wrestling program in 1990, but discontinued their entire high school and the wrestlers from the school have since attended Wapello, Mediapolis Columbus Jct.-WMU and WMU New London. Each school has accomplished their share of success since 1990 and the Morning Sun wrestlers were an integral part of it with all of them.

Affiliated with these match-ups were two coaches who have already been inducted into the Iowa High School Wrestling Hall of Fame.  Dan Mashek for Don Bosco and John Siegel for Morning Sun, Wapello, Columbus Jct., New London and as of this upcoming year, Notre Dame of Burlington. Bill Plein became the 13th coach ever to surpass the 400 dual wins mark.  Mashek  at one point led the state in dual meet victories and is currently 3rd behind Brad Smith (Lisbon, Iowa City High) and Kent Kersten of Logan Magnolia. Mashek retired with a phenomenal record of 519-105-5.  He coached at Gilbertville Don Bosco and North Scott.

So there was a lot of history in the programs that Lee and Reiter came from, and there were legendary wrestling faces in the corners during their matches.

Nick Lee was a two time state qualifier and placed 3rd at state as a Junior in 1998 and 1st as a senior in 1999. Joe Reiter qualified for state three times. He placed 2nd as a freshman in 1998, 2nd in 1999 and 1st as a Junior in 2000. He had to quit wrestling in the middle of his senior season due to a string of concussions that he endured. When he announced this on the Iowa Preps message boards, it broke the hearts of wrestling fans everywhere, but given the research/findings of athletes who suffer from CTE due to suffering an abundance of concussions in athletics, this was most definitely a wise move on his part.  He ended his career at Don Bosco as one of the most successful and beloved wrestlers in the program’s history…a status he earned with his winning ways, fun style of wrestling and charasmatic personality. When he won state as a Junior vs. the feared Tysen Christensen of Lenox, the Don Bosco fans weren’t the only fans excited for him. 75% of the fans in attendance were happy for him. Everybody loved Joe and he was due for that long-awaited title that several people thought may have been out of reach at the time due to Joe bumping up 3 weights from the previous year to wrestle the defending state champion who had looked pretty flawless for 2 straight years. And Joe dominated. There was no question who the man at 125 was that year.

Both kids have strong familial roots. Joe is the son of the late Doug Reiter, a legend for all he had done for the sport and the success he had with coaching his sons. Joe was also the oldest of four brothers…his younger siblings being Mack, Eddie and Bart. Between the four of them, they wrestled in fifteen state tournaments, racked up nine gold medals (4 for Mack, 4 for Bart) and fifteen state place-winning medals. All four brothers placed at state or won it every time they qualified. The only reason that there weren’t an even sixteen state wrestling appearances for the 4 brothers was because of Joe’s concussions that he endured as a Senior.

Nick Lee is the product of two notorious Morning Sun wrestling families: The Lee and Harbison families. His uncle Randy Lee was the first state qualifier for the historic Morning Sun wrestling program. His mother was a Harbison and they were all stand-out wrestlers for Morning Sun and Wapello. Nick’s Harbison uncles and cousins played a vital role in Nick’s wrestling development. His goal of being a state champion was planted in his head when he watched his cousin Truckie (Tom) Harbison come so close to defeating Dusty Rhodes from Osage in the finals at state in 1992. It was at that moment that Nick Lee decided that not only did he want to win state in high school, but he never wanted to lose in Vets Auditorium. He never wanted to feel the way that his cousin felt after losing that finals match.

Nick Lee was a 1999 graduate from Columbus Jct. High School. He placed 3rd as a Junior and 1st as a Senior. He finished with a record of 112-21. When asked to describe his style, he said:

Nick Lee: “My style wasn’t anything flashy, that’s for sure. I mastered the basics a few years earlier and generally stuck to my 2-3 bread and butter moves that worked for me because I perfected them. I just did what I had to do to win.”

Joe Reiter placed 2nd as a Freshman in 1999, 2nd as a Sophomore, 1st as a Junior and as mentioned, was not able to finish his Senior season due to suffering an array of concussions and concussion-like symptoms. He finished his high school career with a record of 125-5. When asked what his style was like, simply put, he said:

Joe Reiter: “My style was fun.” (I happen to agree with him here. He was in my grade and his style along with Trent Goodale and Dustin Bliven were the most fun to watch in the class of ’01, in my opinion. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who was more fun to watch than Joe Reiter, for he had a unique, aggressive style that was effective).

Nick Lee mentioned his brother who always “beat the snot” out of him at home when wrestling as an influence as well as Coach John Siegel who coached him his entire career and Bill Plein who was also there for the majority of his career. He also mentioned Coach Andy Milder as being a great influence for him as well. He was a guy who was always there for him.  He was also influenced by Truckie Harbison and his uncles and parents. He also was a fan of the Brands brothers and Mark Ironside growing up. 

Nick Lee: “I was blessed with great coaches who not only helped you in the short journey of wrestling, but with the long journey of life. They care about the well-being of every athlete that they coach, on and off the mat.”

Joe Reiter expressed having an array of coaches, fans, tutors, etc. who helped him accomplish what he did in high school.

Reiter did not list anyone else that he may have had a rivalry with before or after the matches between he and Lee took place. Lee mentioned having met Cliff Moore (NCAA Champ for the Hawkeyes) in the finals at AAU a couple times. He also mentioned Luke Foor from Wapello as being a local rival. Those two had some battles.  However, Lee stated that his biggest rivalry was in his own wrestling room at Columbus Jct. Place-winner, Jason Utter.

Nick Lee: “My biggest rival was Jason Utter. We were huge rivals in that practice room. I didn’t wrestle much varsity my Sophomore year because Utter beat me out. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Utter. Every…single….day…. we would come into practice and just beat the crap out of each other and then the moment we left the wrestling room, we were great friends, but holy cow did we put each other through hell in the wrestling room. He was so good and a huge part of my wrestling development. I wouldn’t have accomplished as much as I did without him. I have so much respect for him.

Nick and Joe met three times. They never met prior to high school. The first time they met was in the state tournament of 1998 when Joe was a freshman, Nick was a junior. They drew each other first round at state. Coming into the tournament, their knowledge of each other was limited, but semi-present. They knew of each other, but had never met each other on the mat or off the mat.

Joe Reiter: “Lee and I wrestled three times. Since he was two years older, I didn’t know that much about him. 1998 and 1999 were both runner-up finishes for me. There was some frustration. As a Freshman, I had the mentality to win state, but lacked the skill and was stopped by Jesse Sundell in the finals. In 1999, I developed the skill, but lacked the mental focus I needed to accomplish my goals. In retrospect, I wish I wouldn’t have cut all the way down to 103 that year.”

Nick Lee: “I wouldn’t really call it a rivalry…just ended up at the same place at the same time with same goals in mind. The story of my wrestling career would not be complete without him though. He’s a great wrestler. He had some funk. He was good at putting people to their backs… he had a nice carry series, cement mixers and cradles. I remember Sundell and Joe Reiter being the up and coming thing at the time and they lived up to the hype. Joe was a very good wrestler.”

Joe Reiter: “I had no game plan the first time I wrestled him because I didn’t know him. He was older than me and I hadn’t met up with him at any wrestling meets or tournaments so my knowledge was limited coming into that match because of that. I won the match 23-12

Nick Lee: “I knew of him, for I looked at the rankings and what-not, but hadn’t ever seen him wrestle. Footage of your opponent who lives over 100 miles away was more difficult to come by in 1998 when the internet hadn’t fully taken off, especially for country boys like myself. I had heard the name though. Joe Reiter and Jesse Sundell were the new big thing that year and I always wondered if I had ever run into him at a Future Hawkeye’s wrestling practice growing up.  The main thing I remember about that match is getting my butt kicked and being more upset after that loss than any other loss I’d ever had in high school. I remember being down by a lot of points with 30 seconds or so left in the 3rd period and hitting a desperation throw, in which he put me right to my back to end the match. I had never been that upset after a loss ever, for when I saw my cousin Truckie Harbison lose to Dusty Rhodes from Osage in the state finals in  1992, I made up my mind that I never wanted to feel that way at Vets. And my loss to Joe was the closest I ever came to feeling that way. And after that loss, I knew I had only one more chance to accomplish my dreams. Joe ended up being my first match ever at state and my last. I was glad that I wrestled back for 3rd. I hated losing at Vets. I was a bit more star-struck than I should have been with that being my first time wrestling there…I shouldn’t have been. I had wrestled in plenty of big wrestling tourneys in huge venues before that.”

Joe Reiter defeated Nick Lee via Major Decision in the first round of the state tournament in 1998. Reiter advanced to the finals where he lost to fellow Freshman, Jesse Sundell, 9-5. Meanwhile, Lee wrestled all the way back for 3rd place. Both wrestlers had a year to train to win state at the same weight the following year.

Joe Reiter: “I obviously was hungry for that title, but it was a matter of finding a balance of my mental focus and skill in simultaneous fashion.”

Nick Lee: “I worked a lot harder that offseason, I can tell you that. I knew I had only one more chance of accomplishing my dream of being a state champ. I knew I wasn’t where I needed to be quite yet.”

Nick Lee and Joe Reiter both ended up at 1A 103 again at state in 1999, paving the way for a state title. Both wrestlers felt they had cut too much weight to get there.

Joe Reiter: “I wish I wouldn’t have cut so much weight to get to 103 in 1999. I would have been better off. It influenced the mental focus component of my game.”

Nick Lee: “I went from weighing 90 lbs as a Freshman, 95 as a Sophomore, 105 on full feed as a Junior and came in to my Senior season weighing 130 and cutting to 103. Cutting weight was new to me and I’m not so sure we cut weight the right way back then.”

Nick Lee and Joe Reiter both bulldozed their ways to the finals in 1999, where they met each other in the finals. Nick Lee ended up winning this match 12-10 in OT. It was an exciting match. It was back and forth with a lot of action coming in the 3rd period. Both wrestlers exchanged takedowns, reversals and near falls in that period. It was one of the wildest, most entertaining matches in state finals history. I simply haven’t seen anything like it since, with the back and forth tempo the match took. However, with a tough, high scoring, high octane, quick-paced match like this one, came some controversy… controversy that the fans and spectators both made a bigger deal of than the wrestlers themselves. As outspoken as I’ve always been myself on wrestling forums, this was one of the few debates that I always stayed out of, but read everything people were writing. There were people who were upset for Joe, for they thought he was robbed of a championship and there were people who were sticking up for Nick as well. Both sides were hotly contested by the other side and it took Joe Reiter of all people to write an non-anonymous post on the forums that finally calmed the bickering down. Joe gave credit to Nick for being the state champion despite the scoreboard confusion and mentioned that it didn’t matter, for Nick had beaten him a week later at state duals a week later anyways. Joe handled the situation with class. The way I looked at it, there wouldn’t have been any controversy to begin with if it weren’t for the fact that there was some fantastic, back and forth, quick scoring throughout the entirety of the 3rd period. In the words of Mark Ironside while commentating a semifinal match in 2015, “that’s what wrestling is all about. That is what makes wrestling fun.” The points were being awarded so quickly, for both guys were racking up the points one after the other.

Joe Reiter: “The score going into the 3rd period was 4-4. The confusion at the table was that the scoring table did not award me an escape that would have prevented the match from going into OT and would have awarded me the 11-10 victory in regulation.  The points written down/awarded did not match the score that was officially awarded. However, if someone wants to get mad at the scoring table about that, you have to remember, the points were rolling in at a quick pace and it was likely difficult to keep up with. We were both giving everything we had, to the point where it may have been difficult for the scoring table to keep up.”

Nick Lee: “I went from being the happiest I had ever been after winning a match in my entire life to upset and mad the next day. I had no idea that there was a controversy when the match concluded. I just wanted to enjoy my Senior year state title, but that was cut short the next day during a Sunday practice in which we were preparing for the state duals, Coach Plein threw a newspaper at me in practice and told me I had some unfinished business to take care of that coming weekend against Reiter. I was shocked to see that the article chronicled a scoring controversy in my finals match, for I didn’t know there was one. I had no idea that there was any sort of problem until I read that article in the paper.  I knew we were going to wrestle Don Bosco at the State Duals a few days later and I busted my butt to ensure that I would win that match-up in an attempt to squash any controversy.”

Joe Reiter: “I would like to mention how much tougher Lee felt than he did the previous year. Not that he wasn’t good the year prior to that…I could tell that Lee was a great wrestler when I wrestled him first round at state the year before, regardless of what the score may have indicated. But in 1999, he was different. You could just feel how much more he wanted it. I could tell that he had put his time in and worked hard since we met up the year before.”

Don Bosco and Columbus Jct. met up at the state duals and the Reiter vs. Lee match unraveled again for the fans’ enjoyment. Nick Lee won this Match 5-2.

Joe Reiter: “When we wrestled at the state duals, Lee hit me with a headlock in the first period to go up 5-0. The final score ended up being 5-2 with Lee winning. People have to realize, that with controversies, sometimes things go both ways. In that match, I spent almost the entire first period on my back. The ref never called the pin. I am here to tell you, I was stuck. The ref, no doubt in my mind, was apprehensive to call the pin because of what had occurred the week before. I was stuck. I felt both shoulders touch. I lost anyways, but felt that should be said.”

Nick Lee: “I was so relieved when I scored that first five point move. There were some nerves in that match, for I felt the legitimacy of my state title was on the line. I wrestled pretty conservative after that first five point move. I wouldn’t say that I stalled, but I wasn’t trying my hardest to score either. I wish I could take that back. I wish I wouldn’t have coasted and continued to open up after the five point move in the first period.”

What a roller coaster of a trio of matches that was. These guys were both guys who liked to be on the offense and rack up a ton of points and three eventful matches ensued because of it. A match made in heaven for the fans in attendance. And as you’ve likely been able to pick up on by now, this took place between two fantastic people as well.

As for general thoughts about the matchups they had with regarding the other and some of the things they wished would be different in their wrestling careers:

Joe Reiter: “I am glad that it ended up and happened the way that it happened. I felt that I didn’t have the proper mental edge in 1999 and I learned a valuable lesson because of it. It was a hard lesson, but a valuable one. If I could go back and change one thing about my high school career, I wouldn’t have cut all the way down to 103 that year. I felt like the weight cutting that year wrought havoc on my psyche.  Nick Lee at the state duals was my last folkstyle loss of my career. One thing to add would be that at the Keith Young tournament my Junior year, I learned how to wrestle. it’s hard for me to explain in detail, but in the course of four matches, that day something clicked and I figured out what positioning means. And now I know it means everything.  I ended up finishing my career in the middle of my Senior year, due to concussions.”

Nick Lee: “I have tons of respect for Joe. I felt bad or him when I heard that he struggled with concussions and his career was cut short by that. I am not on social media much, but from what little I have gathered about Joe over the years, it sounds like he has been doing great things.  On another note: Sometimes I wish that Morning Sun wouldn’t have discontinued their high school. There is a lot of Morning Sun pride with me. I wore a green headgear to represent Morning Sun, for I knew they wouldn’t let me wear a green singlet.  We had a good thing going in our youth club and we all kind of went separate ways. In Morning Sun, there wasn’t much to do, but wrestle and work hard and I am proud of that.  I always wonder how Morning Sun high school wrestling could have done in the 90’s. I worked very hard, especially in the off season of 1998. I knew I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to win a state title, and I am happy that I accomplished that.  I wish I would have wrestled somewhere in college. To this day I regret that. Wrestling becomes such a large, personal part of your life, that it is so important to enjoy it and do it while you still can. I wish I would have had another 4 years to wrestle, anywhere really. I just love the sport and feel like it makes people better at life.  I would encourage anyone to try out wrestling and to savor it while they are doing it.”

And as mentioned, Joe got his the next year… Check this video out:


As for what they are doing now and how much they have kept up with wrestling:

Joe Reiter: “These days I run long races. I run marathons, iron mans and 100 mile trail races that takes 24 hours to complete. The toughness I learned in wrestling has been essential in competing in these types of events. I also coach 3rd-8th grade at Don Bosco. I have been doing this since 2003. I will be doing this until my son reaches high school in 2027.”

Nick Lee: “These days, I like fishing at the river, farming with my dad as a side job and watching my good buddy Colby Springsteen at the races. Wrestling has taught me to work hard at my job. It has made waking up to my alarm clock easier. Wrestling makes you a harder working person in general after it’s over with.”

* With Don Bosco still maintaining a reputation of being a consistent 1A powerhouse, it becomes quite clear that Joe is a talented coach and does a great job with the youth program.

* When Nick Lee was asked if there was a chance that he and Reiter meet up at an old timers tournament someday, he chuckled and said, “probably not. You would have to give me at least 3 years to get in shape since I’ve heard that Joe has kept himself in such good shape himself. But nah, I don’t think there is a chance of that happening.  I have let myself go a bit and I think my wrestling days are more or less behind me.”

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