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  • Stronghold of Excellence

  • Bob Riehm may not be the father of Southern Oregon University wrestling, but he is definitely the man who put this little corner of Oregon on the national grappling map.
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  • Bob Riehm may not be the father of Southern Oregon University wrestling, but he is definitely the man who put this little corner of Oregon on the national grappling map.
    Former Eagle Point High School wrestling coach Bob Bergen, who was Riehm's assistant for nine years after leading the Eagles to four state championships, credits Riehm for raising the standards in the region, which before that time wasn't known as a wrestling power.
    "A couple guys I went to high school with at Canby said, 'We've got a great coach from Iowa. I think Southern Oregon is going to be good,' " Bergen recalled of the time when he was a graduate assistant at Portland State University.
    "About four or five years later, all of sudden we started hearing about Southern Oregon," said Bergen.
    Riehm turned the SOU program into a national power during a phenomenal 25-year run from 1969 through 1994 that included three national championships, 12 regional titles and 270 dual-meet victories. He led the Raiders to their first national title in 1978, his 10th season, a second in '83 and a third in '94.
    There was plenty of individual success, too. Before he was done, Riehm coached 13 NAIA national champions, 100 All-Americans and twice was named national coach of the year.
    And his influence has rippled outward from there, with several of his graduates going on to coach successfully at the high school level, including Greg Haga, who has led Crater High School to eight state titles, Kacey McNulty, who coaches at powerful Eagle Point, Tim Satre at Grants Pass, and Ken Wharry, who coached at South Medford before moving to Sierra College in Sacramento.
    Farther afield, J.D. Alley took Culver, located near Madras, to an unprecedented six straight state championships through 2012.
    "I got here in prime time, with good, solid kids," Riehm said of achievements by his team and its graduates.
    Riehm started wrestling early in his native Iowa.
    "There, you wrestle in grade school. It's kind of cold in the winters," he said.
    After wrestling at the University of Iowa, he coached at high schools in Iowa, Omaha and Chicago for 10 years.
    He arrived at SOU in 1969. After an initial 7-7 season, the Raiders had a winning record in dual meets every year Riehm was coach, and that streak — now at 42 years — continues to this day.
    Visualization played a big role in Riehm's coaching repertoire.
    "I got into that pretty early. It was really good for the coaching," Riehm explained. "People from business had been using visualization for success."
    Mike Ritchey, a four-time All American for SOU, has coached the team since 1995. The Raiders won the NAIA title in 2001 and have placed second in three of the last four years.
    "His dedication to excellence and his vision of what a young man could be later in life were two of his greatest assets," said Ritchey, who was an assistant coach for Riehm. "There's a high expectation in the program. You had to rise to that."
    Riehm mentored Ritchey, but he also encouraged him to find other mentors. It's a practice Ritchey uses with his athletes.
    "One of his goals, I think, although I never heard him say it, was to produce coaches," said Ritchey. "He would go the extra mile to get folks coaching jobs."
    Ritchey says Riehm is still available to answer his questions.
    Riehm regularly attends wrestling meets at SOU, where the gym is named in his honor, and also takes in high school matches.
    "It's an ongoing adventure, this wrestling thing. I wouldn't just retire and let it go away," said Riehm.
    Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.
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