Chase County teen keeps sports dreams alive despite life-altering injuries

On December 4, everything changed for the Chase County High School senior.
Published: May. 12, 2023 at 6:01 PM CDT
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COTTONWOD FALLS, Kan. (KWCH) - Mitch Budke is a name recognized beyond his community as one of the best athletes in Kansas. The four-sport standout signed to play NCAA Division II football at Emporia State University, staying close to home.

But on December 4, everything changed for the Chase County High School senior. What he faced goes far beyond any in-game situation.

It as his father’s 50th birthday and the family was using fireworks to help celebrate. A fleeting moment changed the course of his life. His mother, Tiffany Budke, explained what happened.

“So, then the boys went out, they had a little crackle ball thing. I saw it and we were like, ‘yeah, that’s find, go ahead and get rid of it, we don’t need to have it around here anymore,’” she said. “I don’t even know where they got it. Apparently, it was faulty and old. It didn’t look like it was gonna go off and then unfortunately [Mitch] picked it up. Then, kind of the nightmare began.”

The firework exploded in Budke’s hand. He lost four fingers on his left hand and vision in his left eye.

“I’ve kind of been able to erase that from my mind a little bit, but sometimes I still get glimpses of it and it’s nothing that I ever want to go through again,” Tiffany Budke said.

Mitch Budke spent four days and five nights in the trauma center at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.

“There were some scary things because we thought he was going to lose his eye completely,” Tiffany Budke said.

The star athlete for the Chase County Bulldogs found himself looking at potentially never touching a ball again, at least competitively. Mitch started his rehab and the recovery process just to perform everyday functions. His perseverance brought the longshot possibility of playing again into view.

“We had a hunch, Mitch, being the way he is, the guy that he is, would try to make a comeback,” Chase County High School Head Baseball Coach Alex Weiss said.

Weiss said he’s learned not to put limits on the senior. It only took Budke three months to get back into a jersey and for people to realize that not much is going to slow him down. The star athlete is playing baseball this spring and is leading his team.

“I just showed up the first day of practice. I picked up a right-handed glove and was like, ‘Well, this isn’t hard,’” Budke said. “So, I just kind of kept going from there.”

Weiss said Budke’s performance has far exceeded expectations.

“The first time I saw him, I was just happy he was in the uniform,” Tiffany Budke said. “Then I saw him go and bat and I was like, ‘No way.’ And then he hit the ball. And then he’s catching the ball in the field with his other hand. I don’t know. I’m just in awe.”

Budke said he’s adjusted to catching and throwing with the same hand and how he grips the bat. Despite all he’s been through, the senior is the Bulldogs’ leadoff hitter and center fielder. Through last week’s games, he’d racked up 14 stolen bases, a .352 on-base percentage and eight RBIs, essentially with one hand.

“What he does athletically, some things just blow me away,” Weiss said. “I don’t know how he’s hitting a baseball. I don’t know how he’s been able to pick up catching with the opposite hand.”

With his high school career winding down, Budke said he’s not taking this time for granted.

“We’ve always been a big-time sports family. We know the importance of sports and what it can teach you,” Tiffany Budke said. “And we’re just seeing it on another level now.”

This summer, Budke will compete in the 8-Man All-Star football game before beginning his college career in the fall. Those wanting to help Budke and his family in his continued recovery can contribute to the GoFundMe page established to assist with medical costs.