Jim Butler wrestled for Clearfield in the early 1960s, but he never made the varsity lineup. You can make an argument, however, that not many in the state made a bigger impact on the sport than Butler.
Today, the wrestling community is in mourning after he died of a heart attack on Friday - days after entering Mount Nittany Medical Center because of complications from knee replacement surgery. He was 65. His viewing is Tuesday from 2-9 p.m. at the Bennett & Houser Funeral Home.
This column is one of the hardest I've ever had to write because Jim was a friend who took me under his wing as a wrestling mentor when I started my career at The Progress in Clearfield. I've been at the Mirror for eight years now, and whenever we'd see each other at sporting events, it would be just like old times.
But more on that later.
Most people around here have probably seen Butler with a camera at matside or at courtside or somewhere in foul territory at a baseball or softball game or on the sideline for a high school football game. He was an award-winning photographer who shot many years for The Progress, but he took pictures for many publications, including the Mirror.
He loved doing his job, loved being in gyms or on fields covering sports. He loved keeping up with athletes like Matt Adams and Jon Condo after they made it big.
He was so much more than a photographer.
Jim was inducted into the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the District 9 Hall of Fame in 1999 and went into the District 6 Hall in 2003.
He began making his mark on wrestling when he started writing a wrestling column for The Progress in the late 1960s. Butler's Matside column was a popular mainstay at The Progress into the 2000s, feeding wrestling fans' hunger for news and opinion on the sport.
But his biggest contribution might have been in the offseason. Soon after he started writing, Jim began taking wrestlers to summer tournaments. Wrestling greats like Hollidaysburg's Wade Schalles, Altoona's Johnny Orr, Moshannon Valley's Mark Dugan, Clearfield's Norm Palovcsik and others like Nate Carr, Eric Brugal and Kevin Darkus were on some of the teams he took to tournaments all over the United States.
"Very sad," said Dugan, a two-time state champion. "Speaking for me, I would have never been a state champ if not for Jim. He was a mentor, and he gave me the confidence I would need to be a state champ. He gave so much of his time to so many people. I don't know how you can total his contributions. He will be so missed."
He did that for approximately 15 years, and 31 of his wrestlers won state titles and five won NCAA titles. He did it because some of those wrestlers didn't have the means to do so. Modest all the time, he didn't call what he did coaching.
What did he get out of it?
"Just the satisfaction of seeing them beat some of the better kids from around the country," he told me for a state induction story in 1999.
He stopped taking wrestlers to tournaments to concentrate on Trackside Racing business, but his influence didn't stop on the mat.
In 1980, he was named the Scholastic Wrestling News Writer of the Year. A year later, he and Palovcsik started the Pennsylvania Wrestling Roundup, which still exists. In 1990, they teamed up again to start the Keystone Wrestling Rankings.
Jim traveled across the state to check on wrestlers to rank, take photos and write about big matches and tournaments.
In 1984, he, along with Palovcsik, earned the Amateur Wrestling News' Dellinger Award, which went to the nation's top wrestling writers. The same year, he was named the District 6 Wrestling Man of the Year.
Palovcsik spent a couple of hours with Butler in the hospital on Wednesday, and he said he was supposed to go home Saturday, but Jim's wife, Sue, called him about 7 p.m. Friday to give him the horrible news.
"Reality hits you and you're devastated," Palovcsik said. "I knew him from 1964, when I was in ninth grade. It's like losing a member of my family. Aside from losing my daughter, which happened three years ago, it's the hardest thing I've gone through. He was like a brother. There are literally hundreds of wrestlers he influenced."
He was named the Wrestling Photographer of the Year by SWN in 1986 and by AWN in 1991. In 1995, he was named the National Wrestling Media Association Photographer of the Year.
Jim was always in his glory at the state tournament in Hershey. He could sit for hours and watch wrestling. Coaches still came to him for scouting reports and advice, and he freely gave them. Sometimes he gave unsolicited advice to coaches and wrestlers, and they listened.
He loved watching the big bouts and talking about them. There was arguably no one more knowledgeable about the sport than Jim.
That's what drew me to him, as well as his friendly, down-home, humorous personality. He really emphasized his friends' first name when he greeted them.
We roomed together at states for many years with The Progress - and sometimes since then - and traveled with each other to cover playoff events.
Even after I joined the Mirror, I enjoyed seeing, talking and laughing with him about not only wrestling but all kinds of things. Sometimes it was just about family, like Sue, who stayed with us at states when I first started, and his kids, Kevin, Troy, Steven and Candy, or things that were going on with me.
I'm going to miss those conversations.
I hadn't seen him since the District 6 Class AA Softball Championship between Philipsburg-Osceola and Central. There he was, with his ladder, shooting over the fence in short left field. Didn't get to talk to him. If I had known it would be the last time, I would have gone out of my way to talk to him.
There's another lesson the hard way.
Rest in peace, my friend.
Todd Irwin can be reached at 946-7464 or at email@example.com. He can be followed on Twitter at ToddIrwin1.