When Justin was pinned by Mack in the state finals as a 7th grader, you would think that Justin was struggling to even win a match considering the panic and loathing that ensued in the Swafford household afterwards, but in reality, it was the first loss Justin had in two years and again, he went another full year without taking a loss all the way until AAU State the next year. Mack and Justin were in the same bracket again, but this time instead of meeting in the finals, it appeared as if they would meet in the quarterfinals. And they did. I think that was the most tension I ever remember there being for any of us four brothers in a match against anyone ever. Justin wanted to get Mack back so bad that he was almost like a man possessed in the days leading to it. Mack was the first opponent that Justin ever really thoroughly studied and game-planned against…. The consensus for us was that if you wrestle Mack….you HAVE to have some sort of a game plan…. otherwise he will be 3 steps ahead of you and you will be screwed. He just had way too many dangerous weapons in his scrambles…you had to try to study and learn them all, otherwise he would bury you. Justin became a better wrestler because of his rivalry with Mack and there wasn’t a single day that went by where Justin didn’t have at least a few minutes where he would think about it and become irate. Everyone in our club was talking about this projected matchup from the beginning of the year and it wasn’t just my family who so badly wanted this win…our entire youth club anticipated it for months leading to it. For Justin, he was tunnel-visioned to make up for what happened in their AAU finals match and the way he looked at it, Mack was the only one in his way to get what he felt was rightfully his, which was the state championship the following year. And while Mack approached his matches with Justin essentially feeling that if he beats Justin in whatever round it may be, he was focused on the spectrum.
Mack Reiter: For me it was always just to win state. I didn’t change my style for anyone. I wanted to impose my style of wrestling on my opponent so I never really pictured any one person. It did feel good though whenever I would beat Justin, because that usually meant that I would win state or whatever tournament it was that we met at.
Justin Swafford: My 8th grade year I did a lot of specific drills and worked on techniques specifically to beat Mack. It was always a mind set of winning state, but I knew that particular year he was one of my biggest competitors and wanted to prepare myself the best I could, all while wrestling my match. When meeting in freestyle, if I knew I was likely to wrestle him, I’d work on defense to low singles and working out of a sucker drag position, but other than that it was just working on good freestyle techniques like tough guts, leg-laces, sealing my hips on finishes to takedowns, and more big move throws and positioning.
So another regular season went by and Justin hadn’t taken a loss to anyone leading into state wrestling his 8th grade year. This meant that since his 5th grade year, he had only one loss out of hundreds of matches and that was to Mack Reiter in their 7th grade finals match. I don’t recall there ever being a match where the emotions seemed to be riding so high for our squad. I was really jacked up for this one. I remember Mack and Justin pacing by each other and staring each other down like they did the year before. I was so worked up that I was in Justin’s ear, saying a bunch of stuff to him that I thought would piss him off. This likely annoyed Justin, for he didn’t ever have any trouble paying himself mad before a match. Our entire club was most certainly not arrogant this year. There was a quiet and calm, “cautiously optimistic” vibe to it.
Aaron Drain (Justin’s Lifelong Practice Partner): We all saw how hard Justin worked and we knew he was ready as he always was, but he was in a situation where we hadn’t seen him in before. Which was avenging a loss. You gotta lose in order to be able to do that and we had no idea if that sort of thing got to Justin or not.
My dad was a wreck he was so anxious. Justin was probably his favorite kid to coach since he was so coachable and never asked questions when told to work on something or to go harder. It was difficult to find anyone more hard-working than Justin and Dad deeply respected him for that and being his son, he wanted the world for him. He wanted him to be happy as a result of all the excruciating work he put himself through without even being ordered to do so. And the electricity in the air was deafening when they both walked on the mat. It seemed like the entire auditorium knew when that match was coming so they could all tune into it. It was 5X as loud and crowded when they met up this year compared to the finals match the year before. People still remembered the finals match from the year before and I think a lot of people tuned in to see if the result of that match was just a fluke or if Mack was in a world of his own… Or maybe they all were anticipating what it ultimately became… One of the best matches that’s ever taken place at AAU state in the history of the tournament? I don’t recall there ever being a match at the AAU State Tournament where the crowd was louder than they were in this match…The 1999, C-90 Quarterfinals between Mack and Justin. And Mack and Justin did not disappoint. In fact, they put on a nail-biting-inducing show for the fans in attendance in that match… And little did my dad know, that one of the most significant moments of his wrestling dad life was about to take place at the end of the match when he met Mack’s dad, Doug Reiter… Watch how crazy this match was:
Justin Swafford: I was devastated. He really surprised me in the finals in 7th grade, and my 8th grade year I had a tough time pulling myself together on the backside of the bracket after losing to him even though I wrestled back for 3rd and beat some really tough kids – I couldn’t believe he took the title away from me again. During that period (Jr. High/High School) those loses definitely haunted me.
1.) Mack Reiter
2.) Tony Hager
3.) Justin Swafford
5.) Justin Bohlke
6.) Andy Roush
7.) Charlie Ettelson
8.) Adam Gottschalk
At the end of the match, Mack’s corner and fans went nuts. They were very excited and very loud about it, in which you can’t blame them considering how the match turned out. My dad was probably more stressed anxious for that one than he has ever been for a match and his anger got the best of him when he perceived the loud screams and cheers as being kind of, “in our face.” My dad, who is notorious for his lack of fear and unflinching willingness to be confrontational if he’s upset, shouted an expletive (**** you people is what was was screamed) at the entire Reiter corner and their jaws dropped. My dad’s voice carries and everyone could hear it. He stormed off, looking like he was about to beat up the nearest Tyrannosaurus Rex he ran into when Doug Reiter started following him and did so all the way until my dad sat down by some stairs on the upper level. A large group of kids and fans followed behind them, for it appeared as if Doug Reiter and Mark Swafford were about to get into a fight and everyone wanted to see it. What happened though, was not what the onlookers expected and was something that stuck with my dad for life and taught him a lesson in humility…
When did you first meet Doug Reiter?
Mark Swafford (Justin’s Dad): I actually met and first conversed with Doug Reiter after Justin and Mack’s second Folkstyle match at AAU state when they were 8th graders. Let’s just say that after this match, Doug gave me a very valuable lesson in humility. The boys had just finished a barnburner of a match in which they were tied up in the 3rd period with Mack on top and Justin on bottom and about 5 seconds left when it looked like Justin just needed to back up to grab his one point escape for the win, but as he tended to do, he got over-aggressive and went for the 2 point reversal instead of the escape. Mack wrenched Justin to his back and picked up nearfall points and the win with a couple seconds left in the 3rd period. Mack’s corner was excited and jubilant, as they had a right to be and I took it the wrong way in the heat of the moment. I glanced at Justin and saw him hanging his head and the combination of seeing my son’s heartache to the sound of some very excited cheers, I regretfully took it personal. I yelled out to Mack’s corner, an expletive, which was way below the dignity of the situation in which I am and have always been ashamed of. When things cleared out, I walked out of the gym area and unbeknownst to me, Doug was following right behind me. A lot of people were following behind, for it appeared as if a fight was going to break out between Doug and I. I got near some stairs, still just heartbroken for my boy when Doug approached me. He could tell that I was very upset and everyone including myself knew that I was very much out of line. The first ever conversation that took place at that moment changed my perception for the better on a number of things and it was all because of the thoughtfulness, class and respect that came from the mouth of Doug Reiter when he spoke to me. He first said, “hey don’t be like that. We don’t want to have bad blood with you guys. We don’t dislike you guys.” Then he said that he could tell that I was upset and that he understood it, but wanted to let me know that the excitement displayed in their corner was not a personal slight towards Justin or at our expense, but it was excitement that came from the joy they were experiencing at that moment, for they felt that Mack had just pulled off a victory against one of the best wrestlers in the state of Iowa who they hold in very high regard. He said that they all considered that win a big accomplishment for Mack for there wasn’t a kid in the state around their weight range that they respected more than Justin. He also wanted to let me know that Justin was still an awesome wrestler and that he had no doubt that he would bounce back to do great things in high school. Boy did I feel sheepish… It was that moment where I learned to try to handle wins and losses with respect and humility.
How were you and Doug Reiter’s relationship after this match?
Mark Swafford (Justin’s Dad): How does wrestling affect a man? I am sorry, I have a tendency to answer questions with questions at times. Doug and I crossed paths a lot, mostly during the freestyle season. In fact, Doug and I started taking Mack and Justin to the same freestyle club which was Mark Reiland’s Future Hawkeye Wrestling Club and those two boys became fantastic practice partners for each other. So every time I ran into Doug, we always talked and I would say we were friends. Always had great wrestling discussions about our boys or whoever it may be. He was always just one of the friendliest people that you could ever meet. He had a GQ look to him, but was always sporting some neat sandals and shorts. He always greeted me with a warm, handsome smile with a noticeable twinkle in his eye. He’s one of these people who when you encounter them, you can tell that they are genuinely happy to see you and not just going through the motions. He always made sure to ask about how life was going and how the boys were doing. You could tell how much his family meant to him. Just a standup guy that I really looked up to and felt privileged to become friends with him.
NOTE: A few years ago, some tragic news swept the entire Iowa wrestling world. Doug Reiter had become terminally ill. This saddened most everyone, for most wrestling fans in Iowa at least know who he is and anyone who does know him, respects the hell out of him. I remember hearing the news myself and just feeling like it didn’t seem fair for him and his family. I remember my dad being straight up devastated when he caught wind of this….
Mark Swafford: Years after Justin and Mack finished their careers, my youngest two boys were wrestling at The Clash in Rochester, MN. I was there coaching Mediapolis as an Assistant coach. I made a trip to the hospitality room during the intermission and overheard a conversation between a couple of officials in which they discussed Doug’s illness. This was the first I heard that Doug was sick and I will never forget that moment. I got that feeling as if my heart was in my throat and was being simultaneously punched in the stomach. It was devastating news. I heard of Doug’s passing a few weeks later and I felt just sick for the Reiter family. It hurt bad, for I knew how good of a man Doug was and I knew that his family had to be just devastated, for I know how much of a good family man Doug was. Again, it hurt. Doug was a man who I respected a ton, for he taught me humility and was someone I dearly liked. It left a void for me. It just didn’t feel right. And the common denominator that brought us all together was wrestling…THAT is how wrestling affects a man!
Now, while my dad had made a new friend who had already become an influential person to him, the wound was still very fresh to Justin. He did not handle this loss very well at all. While off the mat our two families were officially on good terms, on the mat, the rivalry had just begun.