None can match the Peerys of Stillwater.
Rex Peery went from two-time state champ at Stillwater High School (1927-28) to winning three national championships in three years for Oklahoma State.
That’s “Nine for Nine,” the subject of an exhibit at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, which features all nine NCAA Championship plaques of the Peery family.
“It is very emotional to see all of the plaques back together in one spot,” said Ann Peery Ritter, daughter of Rex and sister to Hugh and Ed. “They should be together. It was very humbling to see them all together.”
In the 88-year history of the NCAA Wrestling Tournament, no family has been more successful. In an era when freshmen were not eligible, the Peerys went to nine NCAA Tournaments and won nine championships.
The Smith family, of Del City, Oklahoma, had three brothers — Lee Roy (1), John (2) and Pat (4) — win seven NCAA championships in 12 attempts. Lee Roy is Executive Director of the Hall of Fame while John and Pat are both Distinguished Members of the Hall of Fame.
Hugh Peery, who was inducted as a Distinguished Member in 1980, died in 2015. He was a two-time state champ at Tulsa Central, where his father was coach in the 1940s. Hugh won the NCAA tournament in 1952-53-54 and was 57-1 in his collegiate career (winning his last 48 matches).
“The medals and awards of my father and brother Ed were already here at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame,” Ritter said. “So, after Hugh died, our family just felt like
his awards should be with his father and brother. It is really is a great moment for our family to see this exhibit.”
Ed, who coached at the Naval Academy for 27 years, died in 2010. He was inducted to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1980 with his brother. He won his three national titles in 1956-57-58.
But, it all started with Rex, who was one of the greatest wrestlers in Oklahoma high school history. He went on to coach at state wrestling power Tulsa Central High School in the 1940s before leaving to take over the college program at Pitt.
“No question we were a wrestling family, including me,” said Ritter, who is president of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. “We were always wrestling in the living room on a rug that was pretty much worn out.
“But, wrestling was not an all-consuming thing for our family. My dad wouldn’t allow it.
“He made sure all of us had a lot of different interests. He encouraged the boys to play all sorts of sports.”
But, they excelled in wrestling. Although Hugh and Ed were known as terrific in baseball and football as well as golf, it was wrestling that elevated them to hall of fame athletic careers.
“Our father was a wrestling coach so it was the natural thing to do,” said Ritter, who received the Lifetime Service to Wrestling award from the Pennsylvania Chapter in April. “But, all of us in the family had a lot of other interests.”
That included their father.
Rex Peery, while coach at Pitt, started building homes. In the summer, the entire Peery family, along with some of the Pitt wrestlers, would work to build homes.
“Sometimes we would sell the homes and sometimes we would move in and live in them for a while,” Ritter said. “It was just one of the ways that our father exposed us to other interests.”
Rex was a dominating collegiate wrestler. His collegiate record was 29-0 with 16 falls.
Hugh and Ed started early in the sport.
“One of my first memories of wrestling was seeing my brother Hugh on a wrestling mat at the workout room practicing takedowns,” Ritter said. Hugh was 18-months-old at the time.
Ritter said her exposure goes back to almost birth for her.
“I’m told I was taken to the NCAA Tournament when I was just a couple of months old,” Ritter said. “I’ve loved the sport my entire life.”
Ritter said wrestling was central to the family simply because of a coaching father.
She fell in love with the sport just like her brothers.
“No question my brothers loved the sport to a certain point,” Ritter said. “They always knew they would be wrestlers. They always wanted to do their best because our father was their coach.
“It was kind of taken for granted they would wrestle. But, it meant a lot to them to be successful, too.”