By JEREMY HINES
Whiteland junior Joey Buttler has a knack for gardening. Yes, gardening.
It’s an unusual skill for a teenager in 2022. For Buttler, however, it just makes sense.
Buttler likes to see the literal fruits of his labor. He enjoys knowing the work he puts into something will pay off in the end. He is quite proud of the fact that this year he was able to grow 27 different types of tomatoes. He was able to tend to his apple trees and pear trees, his blueberry, blackberry and honeyberry plants with great success as well. His labor paid off with a bounty of fresh food.
“I really got into gardening a few years ago,” Buttler said. “I was thinking about how people grow their own food and how cool that is. It’s exciting to me to see all the things you can do with your own garden.”
It just makes sense, knowing Buttler’s passion for working hard and seeing that work pay off, that he also gravitated to the sport of wrestling.
Buttler started wrestling a little later than many elite-level grapplers. He got into the sport in seventh grade. He’s felt he was behind other competitors in technique and skill. He decided to work as hard as possible to close that gap.
Saturday Buttler won the Evansville semistate at 126 pounds. He is currently ranked No. 4 in the state and has a 32-1 record.
“I love wrestling,” Buttler said. “I like the fact that you’re going to get what you deserve, whether you agree with it or not. Luck favors the person who works the hardest. It’s a sport where you really work in silence. I like that. And when you achieve your goals, you aren’t happy because of other people’s reactions, you’re happy because you did something for yourself.”
Buttler focused his offseason training on technique. He felt his strength was there with anyone in the weight class, but felt he was lagging behind on the technical side. So, he watched videos, went to different wrestling academies such as Wright Way Wrestling, Outlaws and Contenders.
“I lacked experience compared to a lot of the other guys I go up against,” Buttler said. “I’ve really dialed in on technique. The experience aspect is starting to equalize between me and other kids. I feel a lot more natural now.”
Whiteland coach Anthony Meister says Buttler is the hardest worker in the room.
“He’s always asking questions,” Meister said. “He’s eager to learn. If he could, he would practice seven days a week.”
Another interesting aspect of Buttler’s is that he has an uncanny ability to retain information. That has helped him accumulate a 4.2 GPA and it helps him learn technique quicker than most others on the mat.
“I feel fortunate that I’m naturally gifted in school,” Buttler said. “Information comes into my brain and for some reason I don’t forget it. The ability to not forget things has helped me in wrestling. I can retain knowledge. I watch wrestling content and I don’t ever get tired of it. I keep taking in the information and I am able to retain it.”
Buttler will square off against Adams Central’s Gavin Cook (30-7) on Friday night in the state finals.
Last year Buttler placed eighth at 113 pounds. He’s hoping to improve on that this year.
“My goal is to win state,” he said.
This season Buttler will have a teammate with him at state, something he went at alone in the 2021 campaign. Elijah Brooks qualified at 132 pounds. Brooks and Buttler are practice partners. Last season Brooks got a concussion right before sectional and wasn’t able to compete in the tournament. This year Brooks broke his ankle in December but was able to recover in time to wrestle in sectional.
Brooks is currently 9-6 on the year.
“Eli has made me a better wrestler,” Buttler said. “It’s really cool having him there with me. It was unfortunate he didn’t get the chance last year.”
Meister sees a lot of similarities in the two wrestlers.
“They are both overall good kids and grinders in the room,” Meister said. “I took over the program and this is the first class I’ll have for four years. I put a lot of pressure on them in hopes of turning the program around. I don’t have any seniors on the team, but our club level, middle school and high school numbers are going up and these guys are a big reason why.”
After high school Buttler wants to wrestle in college. His ultimate goal is to win an Olympic medal.