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Remember the Wrestling Club: The Burlington-Mepo Youth Wrestling Club Of The Late 80’s/Early 90’s



How was The club formed?

Joshua Swafford: I believe Mike Sayre started it at James Madison Middle School in 89’ or so. In 1991, the club moved to the YMCA and a few years after that, the club practiced at the high school.  On the other hand, I’ve heard of youth practices taking place at the YMCA in Burlington as early as the 70’szz

Adam Roberts: You know I am not 100% sure how it was formed.  I know that Mike Sayre was our sole head coach at first and he was dating Karen Gunn at the time who is Josh Gunn’s mom and Josh wrestled so I figure Mike got suckered in that way.  Karen did the back end stuff like running the Iron Dog Tournament and managing any other paperwork that came with the job.  I would assume Mike recruited Mark Swafford as his assistant given the Mepo wrestling connection.  From that point it was the Burlington kids being joined by the Mepo kids at James Madison before we moved to the YMCA for years and then lastly the Burlington and Mepo High School Wresting rooms in the late 90’s. I also remember practicing in the Mepo Middle School a few times.



What colors were the singlets?

Joshua Swafford: Purple and Gold

Justin Swafford: Purple and yellow. They don’t have the yellow anymore. Unique to us.

Adam Roberts: Originally Purple with gold trim.  As we got older we started we started wearing more free style singlets and the Burlington kids stuck with purple while the Mepo kids starting wearing black and orange Bull Dog colors.




What are some of the names of guys who wrestled for the Club?

Joshua Swafford: Ross Patton, Ryan Patton, Josh Gunn, Jason Campbell, Buc Lee, Cody Lee, Tyler Sherwood, Justin Swafford, Joshua Swafford, Phillip Klees, Adam Roberts, Neil Johnson, Andy Hartje, Chris Sime, John McClure, Brian Glendening, Kevin Glendening, Matt Glendening, Jason Sime, Jayme Sime, Cole Simmons, Brad Lower, Chris Johnson, Chad Johnson, Caleb Martin, Mark Mueller, Jim Corder, Lee Defosse, Matt Peterson, Jim Corder, Bobby Forseen, Aaron Drain, Ryan Phillips, Ricky Cavins, Neil Johnson, Robert Johnson, Josh Britton, Ryan McCall, Steve Reynolds, David Reynolds, Nate Kramer, Justin Kramer, Brian Mehaffey, Lee Defosse, Ben Thomson, Heath Latta, Scott Hartje, Mitch Dill, etc.

Adam Roberts: Klees, Roberts, Chris, Drain, glendenings, Matt, Josh and Micah Keller, Josh and Justin Swafford, Phillip Klees, Aaron and Adam Drain, Brad Lower, Neil and Robert Johnson, Brian and Kevin Glendening, Booger Sherwood, Heath Latta, Jason, Chris and Jamie Sime, Cody and Buck Lee, Steve and David Reynolds, Chris Johnson, Andy and Scott Hartje, Nate and Justin Kramer, Josh Gunn, Brian Mehaffy, Mark Mueller, Ricky Cavins, Ryan Phillips … A ton more that I am sure I am missing.     


Who were the coaches?

Joshua: Mike Sayre, Mark Swafford, Jim Drain, George Bowman, Alex Sherwood, Josh Daly, Dennis Reynolds, Calvin Keller.

Adam: Mike Sayre, Mark Swafford, George Bowan, Calvin Keller, Jim Drain are who I remember.

Justin: Sayre, Dad, Bowman, Calvin, Drain,


Coach Mike Sayre and Coach Mark Swafford


How would you describe the coaching styles of Coach Sayre and Swafford?

Joshua Swafford: Coach Sayre was a mad man. He started coaching when he began dating Josh Gunn’s mom, Karen. You’ll never meet another person like him. He would piss off a lot of parents (usually new ones) or general onlookers who were running laps in the facility or something for screaming way too much and way too loud at us. He was hard core. His nickname was “Sayre Bear.” He could get away with a lot of things that most normal people can’t due to being shaped like a bear, sounding like an elephant and his absolute willingness to confront anyone who had anything to say to him. People did not want to mess with this guy and that included the kids.  If we didn’t work as hard as we could, the punishment was severe and usually consisted of a lot of stair-running and a lot of burpies. And in the few occasions someone was brave enough to run their mouths at him, he was able to make them look silly, for he has some of the sharpest and funniest wit imaginable. Off the mat (and on…it was tough love) he loved the kids.  You got to a point where all he had to do was look at you funny and you knew he meant business. I guarantee there was nothing else like it in the state. One of a kind. Mark Swafford was pretty similar to Mike Sayre, but his own version of it. Every bit as intense and a very strict and assertive way of making sure people got it. He and Mike Sayre were a formidable coaching duo. Very good technicians obsessed with the sport.

Phillip Klees: They both coached in a way that results were guaranteed. They would make sure we were the best. I owe so much in my life to the coaches of this program. Their coaching styles… borderline sadistic. Sayre would laugh the first practice year when we were huffing a puffing during up down, “this is the worst shape you boys will be in all year.” Don’t know how many times I heard, “if you got the energy to cry, you can do more up downs.” And who can forget the famous “washing machines” exercise, whatever that was, haha!

Adam Roberts: Coach Sayre was a bruiser.  He wasn’t a fancy wrestler, he was strong as an ox and would let you know it if you crossed him.  He had the most wicked, leg crumbling cross face you could ever imagine and he would throw it on you for fun. Coach Swafford was a technician. He was quick, smooth and fluid.  I don’t really remember that much about George Bowman except he used to jog to and from the YMCA for practices.

Justin: I would describe Sayre as tough, but fair. He had a way to relate to kids while being a smart ass. He wasn’t malicious, but cared deeply about us while cracking the whip on us. He’d get that little grin on his face and giggle and you’d know that he’d be up to something. Extra laps or something. He took the time to write me a letter after I won state one year that really reinforced my work ethnic, to keep doing what I was doing. It was good to hear that I was doing great things from a hardass like him. Dad was intense, passionate about the sport, good at working on the technique we needed. He bought us the best tapes to help with technique… the Granby system, Gable and a Schalles topwork video. That was my go to for top work and I would recommend it to anyone. Wade Schalles top work. Dad taught us how to do the carry series perfectly and that eventually morphed for me to everything that I considered my go to. Coach Bowman was relaxed, but expected a lot out of ya. He was the easiest to talk to, but you knew he expected you to or at least compete. He gave the best “in match “ advice. He had a good way of encouraging. Good positive reinforcement, but it was clear that he wanted 100% from us. He was a straight talker. You didn’t get any BS from him. He meant what he said.

When Mike Sayre asked Mark Swafford to be Co-Head Coach of the club.


Where were most of the wrestlers from?

Joshua Swafford: They were from Mediapolis and Burlington. It was very difficult when we had to split up when we got into HS. We were a family and then instantly we were heated rivals. Both squads got about half the guys… the Sherwood’s, Adam Roberts, Phillip Klees, Brad Lower, Chris Sime, John McClure, Heath Latta, Ryan and Ross Patton, Ryan Phillips, Riley Ball, etc. were all Burlington guys. Aaron Drain, Justin and Nate Kramer, Josh Gunn, Matt, Micah and Josh Keller and Josh and Justin Swafford were Mepo guys.

Adam Roberts: It was probably a 50-50 split Mepo and Burlington, maybe more Burlington kids early on. I think some kids lived in small surrounding towns like Danville and Middletown.

Justin Swafford: Mepo, Burlington, Danville mostly. We even got some guys from Morning Sun and Wapello towards the end there like Jared Pierce.  Logan Frescoln traveled all the way from Cardinal.


Front Row (L-R): Ryan McCall, Kevin Glendening, Bobby Forseen, Heath Latta, Justin Swafford Back Row (L-R): Phillip Klees, Josh Swafford, Brian Glendening, Tyler Sherwood, Josh Britton


How long did the club last?

Joshua Swafford: It’s still going, but has different coaches, structure, etc. It’s for sure, an entirely different club than what we had. Ours was one of a kind.

Adam Roberts: If Josh Gunn was an indicator on when the club started and he is two years older than me then it probably began around 1988 and basically ended when I went to high school in 1998. So best guess, 10 -11 years.



Have you ever thought of restarting the club?

Joshua Swafford: Mark Swafford still coaches at Mepo Youth. Would love to get him reunited with Sayre. When some of us got into HS, the club derived into a West Burlington-Mepo hybrid club that Jim Drain was the mastermind behind, which later evolved into the Mepo Youth Wrestling Club run by Drain and Mark Swafford which won several youth and a HS State title in 2015.

Adam Drain and Chris Johnson… World and National Champs for West Burlington YC.

Justin Swafford– If I were to start a club, I would do a lot of the things the same. I would put kore of an emphasis on freestyle and Greco. The main thing I would do different would be separating the new from the experienced so the new kids did not get shell shocked to start the sport. I would probably have 3 separate groups of guys based on experience and level. The complete beginners aren’t going to be excited or entertained by being screamed at for not doing a setup to a move they don’t know yet correctly.

Adam Roberts: No, I live in St. Louis now.

FRONT L-R: Jordan Carey, Lane Ranck, Winston Hostetter                      BACK L-R: Coach Mark Swafford, Justin Swafford, Micah Keller, Brad Lower, Miles Wagler


Did Club always have a full room for practice or were the numbers small?

Joshua Swafford: The room was always full and everyone could attend, but not everyone could stay. You couldn’t go there and expect to stay if you planned on slacking off.

Adam Roberts: Generally speaking, we always had a pretty full room.  I remember there were two groups, the older more experienced group that went with Coach Sayre and the younger less experienced group of kids who were taught by Mark Swafford. I’d say the room consistently had 20 – 30 kids in it.

Justin Swafford: We were the premier wrestling club in SEI in my day and tons wanted to join to get better and we accepted them, but you had to be tough to get through them. Some people would travel to work out in our club. We really cranked things up during districts.



Could any kid join the Club or did it require hard work, dedication and toughness? Were the practices run in intense fashion? 

Adam Roberts: Anyone could join, but at the end of the season it was only the hardworking, dedicated and toughest kids who made it to and through districts and onto state. I remember people staring at us as they walked around the track above us at the YMCA thinking we were crazy.  There were some knock down drag outs, punches thrown, crying and cussing going on with a bunch of pre-teen kids.  Under Coach Sayre we did a lot of live wrestling and conditioning supplemented with drilling the basics.  I also remember going to school my sixth grade year probably at around 5% body fat with a black eye and my Math teacher asking me if everything was ok at home.


Does the Club hold a special place in your heart to this day?

Joshua Swafford: Absolutely. A huge part of my heart is there with wrestling. I hated wrestling Burlington in high school. I still considered them all my brothers and wanted them all to win. I still root for Burlington. Always will. When I see my old teammates from this club, whether they were Mepo or BHS, we always remind each other that even if we don’t see each other enough these days, we are still family…some great friendships there.

* Phillip Klees: The club meant so much to me. I felt obligated to give back and coach for a season before college. Had there have been kids club state titles back then, we were perennial favorites. I can’t thank Mike and Mark enough for their selflessness. With a tear from the bottom of my heart, thanks guys.

Adam Roberts: Of course.  Some of the people I care about the most were in this club.  We still keep in touch.  We basically had a brotherhood. I often refer to this club as our “Sandlot”.  We spent a lot of time together, growing up and facing a lot of adversity.  We are all stronger and more disciplined because of this club.  Life is hard, but we all learned how to be overcomes through our Desire, Determination and Dedication… the Iron Dog 3 D’s… Go Hard or Go Home.

Justin Swafford: Of course. I loved for that club. And Mediapolis wrestling and the trips that we took. Everything about it holds a special place in my heart. It introduced me to a lot of things that became a huge part of my life. Even running on the track at the YMCA introduced me to running… I qualified multiple times in track and cross country running long distance, so that was big for me.



What are some of your favorite Club memories?

Joshua Swafford: One time, a guy named George Bowman showed up and started coaching as if he were one of the guys. Just fit right in there with Sayre and Swafford and they loved him because he had a unique personality and he knew his stuff. He seemed like a nomad. Just kind of appeared one day. Turned out, he was a 2 time state champion from North Dakota and a standout wrestler at the University of Minnesota in the 70’s. He would do fun stuff like make t-shirts with the names of some of our rivals we had battles with. For Klees it was Cody Koenig or Willie James. For Josh Swafford it was Shea Stamp or Anthony Briberesco. Justin Swafford didn’t have anyone usually because he didn’t lose much, but there was a lot of preparation for Henry Wahle and Mack Reiter a couple years. Another one… I loved it when our guys succeeded. Klees besting Willie James at state for the first time. Justin Swafford winning it every year. Roberts being a thorn in several guys’ sides like Adam Reid and Alex Grunder, Heath Latta always dominating, Aaron Drain emerging to one of the best at his age and weight range, Chris Johnson besting JJ Suiter at the blood round at state when that kid reached him out at districts, Chris winning it the next year, Nate Kramer winning state, Micah Keller battling with Kyle Anson and Joey Verschoor, Johnny McClure making noise, Andy Hartje burying guys with a 3/4 Nelson, Matt Keller placing 2nd at state, Brad Lower winning it several years, overcoming the pukes to place every year myself,  Josh Gunn launching people, etc.

Adam Roberts: A few memories that stick out in my mind are 1.) the year we qualified 20 some kids for the state tournament and brought home 10+ metals.  2.) Mark Swafford air guitar-ing it across the Mepo High School wrestling room to “Life is a Highway”.  3.) The practice right before the state tournament that Justin Swafford snapped on us and cussed us all out screaming at the top of his lungs at us for 15 minutes  for not running stairs fast enough at Burlington High  School.  Never saw Justin lose his temper like that. It was crazy. 4.) Night tournaments at Wilton and Durant. 5.) Spending  the night in a hotel the day before District tournaments in PV.

Justin Swafford: The pizza parties were awesome. It snowed real bad in April for one of those. Dropping ice down the stairway at 5 Seasons Hotel with Drain and Chris Johnson and then running to our rooms when someone would scream at us. Playing the first  Mortal Kombat game and trying to teach Klees the blood code: ABACABBA! Josh trying to get away with washing machines is everyone’s favorite.



How would the team have done if they didn’t split into Burlington and Mepo?

Joshua Swafford: In 2A we would have been up there with anyone had everyone from the club stuck together. Osage, Emmetsburg, Clarinda, Winterset, Clear Lake, etc. all would have been tough of course. The team that would have given us major fits was Lewis Central of the 1999-2002 range.  They would have been difficult for any team in history to beat. However, I mean it when I say that had we found a way to stick together, we would have been nose to nose with anyone. A lot of the Burlington and Mepo guys depended on each other quite a bit for they were the best practice partners for each other. This team would have won  state… especially if some of the top guys didn’t quit when they hit HS. That’s another thing, we had at least 5-10 potential state champs who quit wrestling in HS. If the club didn’t split, who knows, these guys may not have quit. Burlington HS and Mediapolis HS always have ad great coaching staffs in place at the HS level. Both staffs would have done great with an entire combined crew.

Phillip Klees: I am absolutely confident that no one would have ever stopped us if we didn’t split. Had we not broken up, our JV team would have held its own at varsity tournaments. if I recall, Anthony Briberesco got denied state by Nate Kramer and I. That’s just one of many examples of how our team used to shut guys from other teams down. .I didn’t like wrestling against my teammates, at all.

Adam Roberts: If we could have all come together we would have ridden a lot of momentum through high school. Instead I think a lot of  kids including myself didn’t reach their full potential. Competitive wrestling partners are the reason programs excel.  If we would have stayed together we would have been in the State  Dual Tournament several time and probably brought home medals.

Justin Swafford: We would have had great teams. Both Burlington and Mepo were tough being split. We would have been a crazy good team with DEPTH. Sky was the limit.


Do you have anything interesting or funny to add about the club?

Joshua Swafford: I have a few things:

1.) Our finish-ups were terrible when we started practicing at Burlington High School. We had to run across the gym, up a flight of stairs, through the hall, down a flight of stairs and that was one lap… we had to do 30 a night. If we got caught slacking, 5 more were added on. Brad Lower, Caleb Martin and Justin Swafford were the littlest guys in the room and would always lap the big guys by at least 5-10 laps.

2.) We discovered the drink All-Sport at BHS. They had an All-Sport machine and we drank a lot of it after practice.

3.) Mark Mueller started wrestling at this club. He went on to wrestle in Postville, IA and won 2 state championships and wrestled for the Hawkeyes. He was at Burlington for 2-3 years and got his butt kicked bad by Klees, Gunn, Josh Swafford and Roberts to the point where he left in tears almost every night and his dad would get so frustrated with him. After his 2nd or 3rd grade year, he vanished and everyone assumed he quit because he was getting beaten up pretty bad. Then we saw him at AAU State one year and he was huge and strong and won his bracket. We had no idea what happened to him, but the guy got good and he got really big and strong. If he would have stayed at Burlington and the club didn’t split, we for sure would have been THE powerhouse. He ended up kicking my ass in college later down the road…

4.) We had a lot of talented guys who quit in HS. Some of these guys would have won state had they stayed out. Heath Latta and Nate Kramer would have won state. Kramer was already starting to dominate AAU every Even year. Brian and Kevin Glendening would have placed at least. Andy Hartje, Robert Johnson, Brian Mehaffey, etc. all could have placed.

5.) Heath Latta was incredible. He quit his Freshman year, but he was so gifted that I guarantee he can still wrestle and do it at a high level. Tough, tough person.


Adam Roberts: Over 30 years later, the Burlington Youth Kids Wresting Club still refers to their youth club wrestling tournament as the Iron Dog Classic.Kids originally in the club now have kids wresting in that same tournament.

Justin Swafford: This is the club that taught me how to run up walls and do back flips. This is a shining memory of my childhood. I see any of those guys now and it’s like I saw them yesterday. Still feel close after all these years. Great comraderie.


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