October 15, 2004
hawekyesports.com note: The following was written by Tyler Lechtenberg and first appeared in Oct. 15, 2004 editions of the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
When sophomore fullback Tom Busch shredded the umpteenth tackle on his way to a 3-yard touchdown run in Iowa’s 38-16 home victory over Michigan State two weeks ago, the Kinnick Stadium crowd erupted.
No one was probably more proud than an 11-year-old boy with Down syndrome sitting next to his parents in the stands.
Joey Busch is big brother Tom’s biggest fan. He’s not a bad teacher, either.
“He tries really hard in everything, which is the case with most kids with special needs. It makes me more grateful for the opportunities that I get, because not everyone gets those opportunities. I guess whatever is worth doing is worth doing right.”
UI fullback Tom Busch
“He tries really hard in everything, which is the case with most kids with special needs,” Tom said. “It makes me more grateful for the opportunities that I get, because not everyone gets those opportunities. I guess whatever is worth doing is worth doing right.”
Tom said Joey is a vital part of the Busch family, which includes brothers Mike and John and parents Jean and Lloyd.
“He’s so energetic. No one can keep up with him,” Tom said. “He always has a smile on his face and will always bring a smile to your face, no matter what you feel like. He’s a really good guy and he gets along with everybody.”
The Busch brothers play or have played a lot of football. Joey does a lot of cheering.
Joey plays a lot of geography learning games called the Leapfrog system. The rest of the Busches do a lot of losing.
He’s a high-functioning child and he has every state capital memorized to the point he is nearly unbeatable at the learning game. He’ll point to Montpelier faster than you can say, well, Montpelier.
“He beats me every single time,” Tom said. “It’s pretty cool. He’s just a really smart kid.”
He’s a popular one, too, Tom said. People come up to talk to him at the grocery store, and he’s already been homecoming king. Tom was voted homecoming king at Park High School in Cottage Grove, Minn., but couldn’t accept his crown because it was during halftime of the football game.
He needed a substitute. Joey was a natural selection, and was even more natural on the field with the homecoming queen, bowing and waving to the crowd.
“The whole stadium was yelling his name,” said Jean Busch, the boys’ mother. “That was neat. It was like a movie.”
Tom won a lot of other awards besides homecoming king in high school. He was an all-state selection, a school-record holder and the Bigger, Faster, Stronger National High School Athlete of the Year.
He was a linebacker since the third grade. Busch set a school record with 413 tackles in three years on the varsity. He came to Iowa as a linebacker but switched to fullback in the spring.
“He’s a high energy guy and a high toughness guy,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I don’t know if we’d describe him as a natural (ball-carrier). That being said, we’re not afraid to give it to him.”
The linebacker came out on the 3-yard touchdown run. He was stood up at the line of scrimmage, ran through that tackle and kept charging through a couple more Spartans on his way to the end zone. The score gave Iowa a 24-6 lead.
“Their linebacker jumped up in there, which kind of brought me a little bit outside,” Busch said. “I put my head down and did what I could and it ended up being successful.”
A group of Tom’s friends came to the Michigan State game, and Joey still remembered their jersey numbers from when they played high school football with Tom.
On one of Tom’s recruiting visits two years ago, Joey met Jeff Parker, the late son of Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker. Jeff Parker also had Down syndrome.
“It was kind of a neat connection,” Jean Busch said. “We did get to meet Jeffrey.”
Jeff Parker worked part-time in the Iowa football equipment room and died this March after complications from a series of strokes. Tom was able to go to Parker’s funeral in Michigan.
Jean Busch said it’s not easy for Tom or Joey to be away from each other. When Tom calls home, Joey sometimes monopolizes the phone. When they go out to eat in Iowa City, they always sit by each other. Tom has a picture of Joey as the screensaver on his computer.
Joey just wants to be around Tom.
“I want to go again,” Joey said. “More Iowa.”
Tom probably wouldn’t mind having a little more Joey around, either.