“I was eight weeks old when I attended my first NCAA tournament, but I don’t remember it,” said Peery Ritter, who is now 73 years old. “My dad was coaching at the time, and my mom tried to attend all of his matches and tournaments.”
She does, however, vividly remember the 1957 tournament, which was held at Pitt’s Fitzgerald Field House. That event was the last time the Division I tournament was held in Pittsburgh. More than 60 years later, PPG Paints Arena will play host to this year’s tournament starting Thursday.
Peery Ritter grew up in a well-known wrestling family. Her father, Rex, and brothers Hugh and Ed, are all three-time NCAA Division I champions and distinguished members of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. No other family has combined to win nine NCAA titles in nine attempts.
Rex Peery was the most successful coach in Pitt history. During a stretch from 1952-1963, the Panthers never finished lower than ninth at the NCAA tournament and placed second in 1954 and 1957. Peery coached 13 individual national champions at Pitt, including three by son Ed.
“The first NCAA Tournament I remember was the year Hugh won his first title,” said Peery Ritter, referring to 1952. “It was so exciting. I got to see Hugh win three titles, then watch Ed win three titles.”
Ed Peery’s third title came in 1957.
“I was 12 years old when the NCAA tournament came to Pittsburgh,” said Peery Ritter, who still resides in Glenshaw. “I remember it well, because my brother Ed was going for his third title. My dad and brother Hugh had already won three titles, so there was a lot of pressure on Ed to win his third. The match ended in a tie and required a referee’s decision. He was awarded the title because he had two more seconds of riding time.”
Peery was one of three champions for Pitt in 1957. The Panthers were the only team to win three titles but had to settle for second best in the team standings. Ron Schirf, a Latrobe graduate, and Tom Alberts, a Waynesburg graduate, also won NCAA titles for the Panthers that year.
“The Pitt Field House is very small compared to some of the big venues they have today,” Peery Ritter said. “It was no surprise that tickets sold out quickly. It was a small, but vocal crowd.
“The tournament has changed so much over the years. They used five mats and had one referee on each mat when it was held at Pitt. Now they have eight mats and two referees on each mat.”
The number of All-Americans has also changed.
“Only the top four wrestlers were recognized as All-Americans,” Peery Ritter said. Now the top eight finishers are recognized as All-Americans.”