Naming Road After 2nd Winningest Wrestling Coach Up For Debate

December 30, 2010 / Wrestling (New Jersey)

RARITAN TWP. — Although ardent supporters are many, two people have gone on record opposing a proposal to rename Junction Road after former Hunterdon Central High School athletic director and wrestling coach, Russ Riegel.

George Hughes, owner of Don’s Jaguar Service on Junction Road, wrote to the Township Committee earlier this month to express his “negative opinion” on renaming it after Riegel. “We want to see the name of the road remain the way it is,” he said in the letter.

“I am completely confused as to why the Township Committee would even consider such a change. Maybe Mr. Riegel was a great coach to some, but to others he was far from the great man he is being made out to be.”

He suggested that maybe the road stay Junction Road, with a secondary plaque on the signs saying “In Honor of Russ Riegel.”

He ended his letter, “Perhaps they should name a road after him in Kentucky,” where he now lives and coaches.

At its Nov. 15 meeting, the committee decided to form a subcommittee comprised of the township planner and engineer, members of the historical society, the township administrator and representatives of the supporters for the name change, a coalition called “Citizens for Riegel Road.” The group had made the request to rename Junction Road, Russell K. Riegel Road that night and Committeeman John King later volunteered to represent the Township Committee within the subcommittee.

There was no discussion as to whether residents who oppose the name change would take part in the subcommittee.

“When did being a coach at a local high school make you eligible for the permanent and grand honor of having a road named after you? I think that is absurd,” Hughes wrote.

Pittstown resident Jeffrey Gilbert wrote to the township Planning Board expressing his discontent with the proposal. “For every supporter of his, there were far more adversely affected by him. Russ Riegel cared about two things, winning and himself; and he did not care how he achieved success with either one,” Gilbert said. “To consider naming a road after him is a joke and an embarrassment to your township,” he added.

Riegel, 81, has more than 830 lifetime wins and is considered the second-winningest wrestling coach in the nation. To change the name, an ordinance would have to be adopted, so a public hearing would be held at which all viewpoints could be heard.

“If we are going to name a road for Mr. Riegel, then doesn’t everyone in Raritan Township deserve a shot at their own road?” Hughes said in his letter. “How about township residents that have helped many, many people across all walks of life? Mr. Riegel may be responsible for helping boys that wrestled, but that is not the majority of our township,” he said.

In an interview after the Nov. 15 meeting, Hunterdon Central alumnus and former staff member Carolee Voorhees said she has known Riegel since she was 14 years old that he’s “reached out to just about every kind of kid you can think of and they weren’t all wrestlers, not all athletes.” He should be remembered; it’s the least this community should do.”

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