EATON — This past weekend, Eaton High School held its 46th annual wrestling invitational, officially renaming the event to the Sam Ridder Invitational in honor of the man who pioneered the program – and the invitational – for the Eagles.
The school presented Ridder with a plaque commemorating the night prior to the championship round on Saturday, Jan. 30. He was joined by his wife on the center mat and several former wrestlers from the program posed for pictures afterward.
Ridder started the wrestling program in 1962 – his first year with Eaton – while also teaching health and physical education and serving as an assistant football coach.
He left the school for a brief stint between 1966 and 1968, returning in 1969 where he stayed for the next 23 years — serving in many roles including physical education teacher, head football coach, head wrestling coach, athletic director, assistant principal and high school principal. He also introduced elementary physical education to the district.
In 1970, Ridder started the tournament to give his team a shot at some of the toughest competition in Ohio – allowing them to understand what kind of wrestling was going to take place in Columbus come state tournament time.
“For us to accomplish what we did, it took everybody. I’m thankful and I’m grateful – this honor wouldn’t have been possible without this community,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for the community – no way. They came into our life in 1962 and you look at those 54 years, they’ve never forgotten us.”
In the beginning, he recalls having to practice in basements or small utility rooms, but he never gave up on the program. He believed in the sport’s benefits after catching the wrestling bug while playing football at Miami University, where the offensive and defensive lines coach was also the wrestling coach.
Ridder saw it as excellent conditioning for football season and the rest is history.
“That was it. I saw what it did for me and a lot of guys at Miami. And I knew what it would do for the kids,” he said.
He also said he started a mother’s club for the program, which was also instrumental in growing the sport.
“Those moms came in and they were tough on their kids. It was an asset to us, they just supported our program,” said Ridder.
And while Ridder modestly credited the entire Eaton community for the program’s successes, he’s also a pretty good coach as well.
To highlight a few items, he was named a three-time Southwestern Ohio Wrestling Coach of the Year (1973, 1974, 1979), Ohio AA Wrestling Coach of the Year (1980), Greater Miami Valley Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame of Southwestern Ohio (1974), Ohio Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame (1984), and the Preble County Hall of Fame (2007).
Ridder also had his teams from 1975 and 1979 inducted into the Preble County Hall of Fame in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
These accolades, on top of numerous state and district qualifiers, are a reflection on his dedication and enthusiasm for the sport.
And when he was recognized on the center mat, he was received with a standing ovation followed by several coaches and former wrestlers thanking and congratulating him. In that moment, the former coach couldn’t help but fight back a few tears.
“It was tough. It was heartwarming. I came pretty close to breaking down. It will be a long time before I forget it – if I ever do. It was quite an honor for us to be recognized,” he said.