When Annapolis Area Christian School founded its wrestling program in 1989, its first coach was Dick Bitzer, the school’s current lacrosse coach. Not sure where to begin, Bitzer placed a call to recently retired Navy head coach Ed Peery, a legend in the sport, and asked for help.

Peery, who passed away on Tuesday at the age 75, lent an immediate hand, helping AACS secure mats and serving as a great resource for Bitzer and every Eagle head coach who has followed.

So instrumental was Peery to the AACS program, that it named its annual invitational tournament in his honor and the Ed Peery Invitational will be held for the 12th time this December.

“He was a great man. He was a mentor and a friend to me,” said Joe Palumbo, who has made the transition this summer from athletic director to Director of Operations at AACS. “He and I both served as elders at our church, so I got to see that he was an even greater man than he was a wrestling coach.”

Palumbo knows a little bit about wrestling at AACS. Two of his sons have gone from standout wrestlers in the program to head coach, as current coach Luke Palumbo followed other brother Jake in that position, taking the helm in 2007. Both knew the influence of Peery.

“Ed made two or three appearances per year in our wrestling room, helping at practice and teaching the kids,” said Joe Palumbo. “When my boys came home with bruises or busted lips, I knew Ed had been in the room and used them to demonstrate some moves.”

Peery retired as Navy head coach in 1987, after 27 years, but stayed at the Academy for another 13 years as a professor in the physical education department. His record with the Midshipmen was an impressive 311-90-14 and his teams dominated arch-rival Army, posting a 22-2-3 mark against the Cadets. He won eight Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association titles and coached 48 EIWA champions and 28 All-Americans.

Hard to believe, but his wrestling career was even more impressive than his coaching tenure.

Peery was a three time NCAA champion at the University of Pittsburgh, going 51-1 in an era when college athletes had just three years of eligibility. He would go on to become an alternate for the 1956 U.S. Olympic team and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1980.

Peery is survived by his wife Gretchen, as well as his daughter Martie and son Greg. He also two additional children, a son Neil and a daughter Laurie, who had passed away previously.