InterMat Rewind: Ed Peery

Ed Peery
Nine individual NCAA titles in nine attempts. Only one family can claim that accomplishment: The Peerys. The father, Rex Peery, and his two sons, Hugh and Ed, each won three NCAA wrestling championships in three years of eligibility. (Until the 1970s, freshmen were not allowed to wrestle in intercollegiate competition.)

InterMat Rewind salutes the Peerys -- their lives as a family, their individual careers in wrestling and coaching, and their lives off the mat -- with a series of individual articles. This summer, we profiled Rex Peery, then, in December, elder son Hugh Peery. Now, a tribute to Ed Peery.

Meet Ed Peery

Ed Peery
For someone who would go on to be a great wrestler and coach, Edwin Clark Peery could not have timed his arrival into the world any better.

The younger son of the Peery wrestling dynasty was born while father Rex was competing for Oklahoma State at the 1935 NCAA championships at Lehigh University. In fact, according to Ed, his dad found out about his son's birth by telegram, just before he was about to step out onto the mat to wrestle George Ledbetter of the University of Illinois for the 118-pound title. (The Cowboy senior pinned his Illini opponent at 5:52 to win his third straight national championship.)

As with his older brother Hugh, Ed Peery was born in Stillwater, where their parents, Rex and Clara, lived while dad completed his college degree at Oklahoma State.

Ed was named for his dad's college coach, Edward Clark Gallagher, whose name is now on the arena at Oklahoma State, and was named one of the three all-time great college wrestling coaches (along with Dan Gable and Harold Nichols) for the 75th anniversary of NCAA wrestling in 2005.

Lessons from the father

Rex Peery provided both of his sons an early introduction to wrestling. "Before dinner, he'd get on the rug and we'd do, say, the side roll," according to Ed. "He would offer instruction and encouragement ... Each time, we'd learn different things."

"We'd go watch wrestling matches and he'd talk about what was going on ... He was incredible about the fundamentals. He coached wrestling in high school, and taught it well."

In the 1940s, Rex Peery had made a name for himself as coach at Tulsa Central High School, a powerful wrestling program respected in Oklahoma and beyond. He attracted the attention of administrators at the University of Pittsburgh, who wanted to rebuild what had been a struggling wrestling program.

Coach Peery was offered the head coaching job at Pitt in 1949. That summer, mom, dad, daughter Ann and son Ed moved to Pennsylvania ... while Hugh, a senior at Tulsa Central, stayed with the family of his friend and teammate John Eagleton to earn his diploma with his graduating class, and win his second Oklahoma state title.

While the timing of the Peery family move posed a challenge for Hugh, it worked fine for Ed, who had yet to enter high school. "As a freshman, I went to Baldwin High School (in Pennsylvania), which had no wrestling, so I played junior varsity baseball and ran varsity track."

Brothers reunited

Once Hugh Peery graduated from high school in 1950, he came to Pittsburgh to rejoin the rest of the family.

Hugh Peery
"That summer, we moved from one high school to another, Shaler, which had wrestling," Ed Peery recalled.

It was an interesting summer for the Peery boys in another way. "We did the book Wrestling for A.S. Barnes Sports Library in the summer of 1950," said Ed Peery. (It was an update of a classic how-to-wrestle book originally produced by Ed Gallagher years earlier.) "We posed for the pictures -- Hugh was a two-time state champ, and I'd never wrestled in an official match."

"I was a bit bigger, bigger-boned."

When asked about a possible sibling rivalry in wrestling, the younger Peery responded, "I never wrestled my brother in a match ... We were very competitive but kept things under control, because things got aggressive pretty fast."

"It was important to me to keep the competitive attitude alive. You learn a lot when you compete against one another."

"I always thought I could take him," Ed Peery said of his brother, with a smile in his voice.

A star at Shaler

Although he had been wrestling on the living room floor since an early age, Ed Peery's official competitive career started as a sophomore at Shaler Area High School in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania, where he wrestled three years. As he described it, "We wrestled on a stage in the auditorium."

"My first match was against a state runner-up the previous year from Grove City, Pennsylvania, now a senior ... I talked to my brother before the matching, saying, 'I got a bad break.' Hugh responded, 'He puts his pants on the same way you do.'"

Ed Peery
"I went out and wrestled. He worked me over. At the end of the first period, I was down 2-0. Hugh told me, 'You haven't done anything.'"

That brotherly advice may have been the inspiration Ed needed. "By the end of the match, I had beat him," said the younger Peery.

"Dad taught me a lot, and so did Hugh. They got me to a spot where I needed to be ... You also learn from teammates."

Ed Peery apparently made use of those wrestling resources at Shaler, compiling a 48-1 record, and winning section, WPIAL (Western Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Athletic League), and Pennsylvania state titles. He was inducted into the Shaler Area High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001; a decade earlier, both Ed and brother Hugh were welcomed into the Southwest Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame.

All in the family at Pitt

After graduating from Shaler in 1953, Ed Peery enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh, where his father was head wrestling coach, and his brother Hugh had already won two NCAA titles in 1952 and 1953.

What was it like wrestling for his dad beyond those family tussles in the living room? "Dad would get so emotionally tied up in things," said the younger Peery son. "I think it was harder on him that us."

"Before a match, he'd say, 'Go get 'im' and 'You'll see this guy again. Whip 'im good this time. Once you've put a whippin' on him, he'll dread seeing you again.'"

According to Ed Peery, there was another side of his dad the coach: "He had a manner about him. He'd cause you to do your best -- very encouraging. He'd say 'You're as good as it gets.'"

Honest self-analysis

In the interview for this profile, Ed Peery was surprisingly disclosing in how he felt before his college wrestling matches.

"When I walked onto the mat, I was terrified, but it made me better. I would crush 'em if I could. Frightened that I'd lose, I didn't lose."

In his three years of wrestling varsity at Pitt, Ed Peery lost only one match out of 52, to Joe Alissi of Springfield College at the 130-pound semifinals of the 1956 EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) championships.

In the InterMat interview with brother Hugh, the elder Peery could recount details of his one collegiate loss in far more detail than any of his significant wins. Something similar happened in talking to Ed Peery; the match he described in the greatest detail was the loss to Alissi.

"It was a stupid loss," Ed Peery recalled. "I wrestled a dumb match."

"He was left-handed, powerful and quick. Strong enough to keep me away. He slapped a cradle on me in the second period. If a guy slaps a cradle on you, you react. You treat it with respect. Instead, I challenged the cradle, got caught for two, got out, but could not beat him."

The final score: 4-3 Alissi, who advanced to the finals, only to lose to Penn State's John Johnston. Ed Peery placed third at 130 at the 1956 EIWA championships. (He won EIWA titles in 1955 and 1957.)

"Guys who watched the films said, 'You never did anything.'"

Unlike his brother Hugh who often jumped out to early leads and cruised to victory, Ed Peery seemed to seek more of a challenge on the mat.

"I loved when I was behind. I figured I had them where I wanted them. I could catch anybody. I thought of myself as being strong, fast, with a solid knowledge of the fundamentals."

"Once the competition got going, I got going."

NCAA memories

Ed Peery has powerful memories of the three NCAA championships where he wrestled.

"At the 1955 NCAAs at Cornell, in the finals I went up against (Lewis) Guidi (of West Virginia). Strong, powerful, a physical specimen. Great competitor ..."

"I was ahead, he took a shot, which, if it had worked, he would've won the match, but I pancaked him, and pinned him." (Peery scored the fall at 8:30 to win the 130-pound title.)

Harmon Leslie
Ed Peery faced the same opponent in the finals of the 1956 and 1957 NCAAs: Harmon Leslie of Oklahoma State.

"Harmon Leslie got me with the Leslie snap -- got me with the same move more than once," Peery recalled.

"He was a great young man. Died of cancer ... A guy you wanted to get in the practice room with you, to learn from him. Very slick, very clever."

In describing the 123-pound finals at the 1956 NCAAs in his opponent's "home gym" at Oklahoma State -- then called Gallagher Hall -- Peery said, "He came out to wrestle ... I was very strong on the mat." The Pitt Panther defeated the Cowboy, 7-5, to win his second national title.

The following year, the two 1956 NCAA finalists met on the mat again ... this time, at Pitt's Fitzgerald Fieldhouse, Peery's "home gym."

This time, it was a very different match, according to Ed Peery: "He didn't come to wrestle ... I had to chase him. I went after him all the time. I thought if I could get my hands on him, I could beat him.""

"I got way behind ... I was wrestling so poorly."

"He took me down two times with the Leslie snap."

Here's how the National Wrestling Hall of Fame website described the 1957 NCAA 123-pound finals:

(Peery) trailed Harmon Leslie of Oklahoma State, 7-4, in the last minute of the finals, only to rally with a takedown and time advantage to send the match into overtime. When the extensions ended in a 2-2 draw, Ed Peery was voted national champion by the judges and wrestling owned a family legend without precedent in the world of sport. (In 1957, if there was a tie in regulation, one overtime period was wrestled. If that ended in a tie, the officials determined the winner. The score of the 123-pound final: 7-7, 2-2, URD -- unanimous referee decision.)

The 1957 Peery-Leslie title match has been declared one of the top ten NCAA bouts of all time -- and not just because it propelled Ed Peery into the same realm as his dad and brother Hugh as three-time national champs. It was truly an intense nail-biter.

When asked if there was more pressure on him to win that third title, Ed Peery responded, "It wasn't weighing on me at all before the match."

"I spoke to Leslie only once, in the locker room, after the match," said Ed Peery. "He apologized for wrestling the way he did. But that's what he had to do."

Going up against the superstars of the era

Here's a year-by-year capsule summary of the U.S. Naval Academy wrestling program under head coach Ed Peery:

Dual meet record: 6-3-0
EIWA team placement: 6th
NCAA team placement: Tied for 28th
Dual meet record: 4-5-1
EIWA team placement: 3rd
NCAA team placement: Tied for 30th
Dual meet record: 5-3-0
EIWA team placement: 4th
NCAA team placement: Tied for 11th
NCAA All-Americans: Mike Harman (3rd at 137 lbs.), Gerry Franzen (6th at 177)
Dual meet record: 6-2-1
EIWA team placement: 5th
NCAA team placement: Tied for 29th
NCAA All-American: Gerry Franzen (5th at 177)
Dual meet record: 3-3-2
EIWA team placement: 3rd
NCAA team placement: Tied for 10th
NCAA All-American: Wayne Hicks (2nd at 137)
Dual meet record: 10-1-0
EIWA team placement: 2nd
NCAA team placement: 19th
NCAA All-American: John Nichols (5th at 191)
Dual meet record: 7-1-1
EIWA team placement: 2nd
NCAA team placement: 5th
NCAA All-Americans: Gary Burger (3rd at 123), Pete Vanderlofske (5th at 145), John Kent (5th at 160)
Dual meet record: 9-0-0
EIWA team placement: 1st
NCAA team placement: 5th
NCAA All-Americans: Pete Vanderlofske (3rd at 137), John Kent (2nd at 152)
Dual meet record: 9-0-1
EIWA team placement: 1st
NCAA team placement: 19th
NCAA All-American: Benjamin Welch (5th at 167)
Dual meet record: 7-2-0
EIWA team placement: 1st
NCAA team placement: 23rd
Dual meet record: 16-1-2
EIWA team placement: 2nd
NCAA team placement: Tied for 9th
NCAA All-Americans: Tom Schuler (4th at 118), Lloyd Keaser (3rd at 142)
Dual meet record: 12-3-0
EIWA team placement: 1st
NCAA team placement: Tied for 9th
NCAA All-Americans: Tom Schuler (4th at 118), Lloyd Keaser (3rd at 142)
Dual meet record: 11-5-0
EIWA team placement: 2nd
NCAA team placement: Tied for 10th
NCAA individual champ: Dan Muthler, 142 lbs.
Dual meet record: 12-1-1
EIWA team placement: 1st
NCAA team placement: 17th
NCAA All-Americans: Fred Hahndorf (6th at 134), Jeff Simmons (5th at 190)
Dual meet record: 20-1-0
EIWA team placement: 2nd
NCAA team placement: Tied for 35th
Dual meet record: 13-2-0
EIWA team placement: Tied for 2nd
NCAA team placement: 13th
NCAA All-Americans: Mark Costello (6th at 118), John Althans (4th at 158)
Dual meet record: 12-6-0
EIWA team placement: 2nd
NCAA team placement: 23rd
NCAA All-American: John Althans (6th at 158)
Dual meet record: 8-11-0
EIWA team placement: 4th
NCAA team placement: 36th
Dual meet record: 13-6-0
EIWA team placement: 3rd
NCAA team placement: Tied for 28th
NCAA All-American: Larry Kihlstadius (6th at 150)
Dual meet record: 18-5-0
EIWA team placement: 2nd
NCAA team placement: Tied for 19th
NCAA All-American: John Reich (4th at 167)
Dual meet record: 18-4-0
EIWA team placement: 3rd
NCAA team placement: 39th
Dual meet record: 19-3-0
EIWA team placement: 1st
NCAA team placement: 17th
NCAA All-American: John Reich (3rd at 167)
Dual meet record: 18-0-2
EIWA team placement: 2nd
NCAA team placement: 11th
NCAA All-Americans: John Reich (2nd at 167), George Fears (7th at Hwt.)
Dual meet record: 15-4-1
EIWA team placement: 1st
NCAA team placement: 32nd
NCAA All-American: Jim Peters (8th at 118 lbs.)
Dual meet record: 13-4-1
EIWA team placement: 5th
NCAA team placement: Tied for 55th
Dual meet record: 11-10-0
EIWA team placement: 1st
NCAA team placement: Tied for 53rd
Dual meet record: 16-4-0
EIWA team placement: 2nd
NCAA team placement: 24th
NCAA All-American: Mike Treaster (5th at 126 lbs.)
Ed Peery was an alternate for the U.S. freestyle wrestling team for the 1956 Olympics held in Melbourne, Australia. In that capacity, he had first-hand experience with some of the great American wrestlers of the mid 1950s.

"There are guys you don't want to go with," said Peery. "They're so strong, they'll hurt you. Guys like (Dan) Hodge, Peter Blair at Navy. They had tremendous grip, incredibly strong."

"I'd try to turn guys with a quarter-Nelson, and couldn't do it. Hodge could do it -- he had something special. Blair was similar. He hurt me in practice."

Ed Peery had special commendation for another U.S. Olympic freestyle team member, Myron Roderick, who eventually became head coach at his dad's college alma mater, Oklahoma State.

"Myron was fast," said Peery. "As bright and clear as anyone I've seen."

The wrestler follows in his father's footsteps as coach

Once Ed Peery's wrestling career was complete, he chose to become a coach ... just like his dad Rex.

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 1957, Ed Peery first taught engineering at his alma mater, and served as an assistant wrestling coach to his father.

In 1959, Ed Peery came to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland as a civilian in engineering, and to assist long-time head coach Ray Swartz ... and spent more than next three decades at the Academy.

Peery took the helm of the wrestling program at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1961, and served as head coach for 27 seasons. During that time, his Midshipmen matmen compiled a 311-90-13 record, for a .767 winning percentage -- the highest of any Navy head coach. He was named Coach of the Year in 1969.

During the Peery years, Navy won eight EIWA team championships ... and an incredible 48 individual Eastern titles. Eight of Ed Peery's wrestlers were two-time EIWA champs; four were three-time EIWA titlewinners. (Interestingly, in his first five years at the Academy, Ed Peery would have coached against his dad Rex, who remained head coach at fellow EIWA member school Pittsburgh until 1965.)

The Naval Academy wrestlers were just as impressive on the national stage. Navy teams qualified at least one wrestler for the NCAA championships every year Peery was coach. From 1961-1987, Navy could claim 28 NCAA All-Americans, including six two-time All-Americans: Gerry Franzen in 1963 and 1964; John Kent and Pete Vanderlofske in 1967 and 1968; Lloyd Keaser and Tom Schuler in 1971 and 1972; and John Althans in 1976 and 1977.

Peery could even claim an individual national champ. At the 1973 NCAAs at the University of Washington, Dan Muthler brought home the 142-pound title, becoming only the second Midshipman to win a national collegiate crown. (The first was Peter Blair, who won NCAA titles in 1954 and 1955.)

What's more, two of Peery's former Navy wrestlers -- Lloyd Keaser, and Tom Schuler -- competed for the U.S. at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Keaser won the silver medal in freestyle competition at 68 kg/149.5 pounds at the '76 Games. (Keaser was an international mat star, having also won a 1973 World title, and two medals at the Tiblisi tournament.)

As a lasting legacy, the U.S. Naval Academy now has the Ed Peery Award, presented to the Navy wrestler who demonstrates outstanding leadership, hard work ethic, and competitive spirit.

Here's what Wayne Hicks -- a two-time EIWA champ who wrestled for Peery, then served as his assistant at the Naval Academy -- said about his coach at a Maryland online wrestling forum: "Coach Peery had many qualities that made him a great coach and many saw what an intense competitor he was. However, the one thing that always sticks out in my mind, and hopefully I transferred it to teams I coached, was that he found a way to make the most difficult sport a lot of fun -- very, very important."

After retiring as head coach in 1987, Ed Peery stayed on at Annapolis, responsible for all recreation programs at the U.S. Naval Academy for a number of years.

Ed Peery's contributions to the sport go far beyond the Navy wrestling program. He is considered to be one of the pioneers in establishing and conducting large-scale summer wrestling camps. He helped launch the wrestling program at Annapolis Area Christian School, which hosts the annual Ed Peery Invitational, a high school wrestling tournament held in mid-December for the past decade. In early 2009, the Anne Arundel County Wrestling Coaches Association presented Ed Peery with the Allan Segree Service to Wrestling Award.

Ed Peery has been active outside of wrestling, as well. He serves as an elder at Grace Evangelical Presbyterian Church (PSCA), and is an avid woodworker.

Both Ed Peery and his brother Hugh were welcomed as Distinguished Members into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1980 ... just four years after their father Rex, who was part of the Hall's inaugural class.


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