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?
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!