Russell K. Riegel, who became a legend as an athletic director and wrestling coach at Hunterdon Central High School, has died.
Riegel died Thursday, Nov. 7, at Hospice Compassionate Care Center in Richmond, Ky. He was 90.
Riegel was born in Washington (Warren County) on June 27, 1929 to John and Elsie Riegel. He began a lifelong relationship with wrestling as a high school student at Washington High School. He was a four-time New Jersey high school state finalist, winning state championship titles in 1944 and 1946.
Riegel wrestled at Gettysburg College where he amassed a collegiate wrestling record of 63-1aand was a four-time Middle Atlantic Conference Champion. He continued to wrestle in the Navy while obtaining the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade.
Riegel was Hunterdon Central High School's first Athletic Director and wrestling coach, a position he held for 35 years from 1956 to 1991. Riegel created the Hunterdon Central Invitational Wrestling Tournament, which is believed to be the nation’s longest running holiday tournament.
During his tenure as Athletic Director, Hunterdon Central expanded the athletic program from four sports to more than 20. He is thought to be the second-winningest high school wrestling coach in the nation - with 838 wins.
Riegel wrestling team record at Hunterdon Central was included 533 wins, 89 losses and six ties.
In 1991, Riegel moved to Kentucky where he coached wrestling at Harrison County High School from 1994 to 2010. He collected another 305 wins there, bringing his record to 838-218-9.
Riegel had five undefeated seasons and his wrestling teams were continually ranked in the top 10 teams in New Jersey. He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2002, the Hunterdon Central High School Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Gettysburg College Hall of Athletic Honor in 1984.
In 1989, he was Wrestling USA Magazine "Man of the Year." He has coached 12 state wrestling champions in New Jersey and Kentucky.
While the world knew him as "Coach," his family knew him as "Pop" or "Poppy." To the wrestling community, he was an innovative legend, to his family, he was the world.
His family will remember him for his fierce love and loyalty. His children will remember him for his presence, always there, steady and strong. His grandchildren will remember him for his love and consistent presence at each of their "big moments."
Riegel was preceded in death by his father, John, and his mother, Elsie; a son, Kevin Riegel; and a granddaughter, Taylor Hadley. He is survived by his wife, Melissa Frances Riegel; three daughters, Kim Eubanks (Michael), Debbie Schmidt (James), and Kelly Hadley; five grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be conducted at 3 p.m. at Oldham, Roberts, and Powell Funeral Home in Richmond, Ky., on Saturday, Nov. 23. The family will receive visitors from 1 to 3 p.m. prior to services.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his name to HCHS Wrestling Alumni Association, 588 East Pike Street, Cynthiana, KY 41031. Condolences may be made at http://orpfh.com