The 2022 college wrestling national championships are over … but the great...
The Legacy of a Wrestling Family
Editor’s Note: On this Christmas Day, WIN Magazine knows that many wrestling families are getting together this holiday season. And there are few families like a wrestling family that spans many generations. Such has been the Rechtfertig family story that appeared in the recent issue of WIN Magazine about how pictorial memories remind us all that wrestling is more than just about winning.
By Mike Finn
The old phrase says, “A picture paints a thousand words.” For the Rechtfertig family, it’s difficult to find the right words to describe how special the sport has been to their family.
Now a days, technology makes it easy for parents to take pictures of their kids wrestling … which usually try to showcase the best moments in their kids’ lives on a wrestling mat. Such was the case when Brent Rechtfertig of Salado, Texas, took some images of his 15-year-old son Nathan competing in a recent high school event in his adopted state.
The father of this high school freshman took pride in his son and was happy to share the moment with members of the national media.
“The photo was amazing so I figured I’d share it with you in case you are interested in placing it in an upcoming issue. No pressure, just thought it looked great,” wrote Brent on Dec. 1.
The elder Rechtfertig — who happens to also serve as a part-time club coach in this community, which sits about 100 miles between Dallas and Houston and is a suburb of Austin — is like any parent who takes pride in the skills his teenage son demonstrated in the photo.
“I’m not interested in showcasing ego or anything like that,” said Brent. “I’m just happy that my son is wrestling for a program that started just three years ago.”
Instead, the photo of Nathan reminded Brent of a moment in 1990 when he was a high school junior seeking to win a third of possibly four Kansas state championships for Wellsville High School.
“Ironically, my mother did this for a picture of mine when I wrestled in a Kansas state finals match and sent it to the magazine Wrestling USA … and it made the cover.”
The only problem is that Brent — who can be seen trying to escape in the match — lost that 135-pound final in overtime to a young man named Doug Speer of Atchison County High School.
“That kept me from becoming a four-time state champ,” said Brent, who came back to win a third state championship in 1991, earned honorable All-American honors and eventually earned a scholarship to wrestle at the University of Missouri.
So why would his parents — Frank and Jeanne — send in the image of a loss to a national magazine?
“They told me there were three reasons,” Brent said. “One, she thought it was a cool picture. Two, they said they were always so proud of me. And No. 3 was the reaction I showed after the match, knowing that I wanted to be the first four-time state champ for my school.”
Brent said he had no idea that his parents were doing that.
“It surprised me that a magazine would be interested in me,” he said. “It wasn’t until later in my life that the loss taught me how to fight back. The only thing that picture did was fire me up for season when I pretty much tech-falled everyone in the state. I got super focused.”
Frank Rechtfertig, who was a junior college wrestling coach at that time, can still remember that pride he had in his son, who graduated from high school with a 4.0 grade point average and later earned a degree in mechanical engineering at Missouri.
“He worked hard, set his goals and usually accomplished them,” said Frank, who with Jeanne, now live in San Diego. “That’s the part that I really like about wrestling. When Brent started, he had a little more intensity than other kids and by his freshman year of high school he was also wrestling in the summers, which was the most critical part of Brent’s development.”
Frank recalls that Brent traveled to a regional tournament before his high school freshman season and “got his butt kicked,” but focused on his future.
“When he came back, he had so much confidence and said he was going to become a four-time state champ,” Frank said. “He got in the finals (that freshman season) with the defending state champ and beat that kid, which I thought was phenomenal.
“And even though he lost in the finals as a junior, that was a good experience for him as well. I was really most proud of him at that moment because he held his temper and accepted his loss. It really built character.”
Frank also knew something about overcoming tough times as a wrestler.
Born in Waterloo, Iowa, Frank was raised in nearby West Union, Iowa, where he was a decent high school wrestler in the mid-1960s, but never won a state championship.
“I qualified for the state tournament my senior year, but I got beat my first round and didn’t even place,” said Frank, who still wanted to wrestle in college and would walk on at Wayne State in Nebraska before transferring to the University of Northern Iowa.
“I enjoyed it so much and I was a decent wrestler and wrestled some varsity matches. Some people have asked why I wrestled without a scholarship? I was also working part-time about 30 hours a week to stay in college and paid for college. I did it because I liked it.”
Both Frank and Brent used their wrestling experiences to also find success off the mat in their lives. In addition to coaching junior college in Kansas, Frank also was a teacher. Brent got involved in many careers, including that as a detective on a police force.
Frank hopes that Brent is able to hand down to Nathan and his other two sons, Jason, 16, and Sam, 11, (who also wrestle) some of the lessons he tried to teach Brent growing up.
“I hope I handed down the principles or working hard and that you get what you work for, which is something that wrestling does,” Frank said. “You have to put in hard work regardless and kids will admire that. I know that Nathan gets straight As and all three boys are close to that. Brent pushes them, but not too hard. Brent was very high energy growing up in Kansas, but he’s cooled it down for his kids. He does a really good job as a parent.”
“My dad has shared many stories,” said Nathan, who also plays football for his high school. “My father and grandfather were both very dedicated to the sport and they later became very successful in their lives.”
Nathan has also looked at pictures of his father and shared what he saw.
“He was independent and wrestled like an animal,” joked Nathan, who admitted he still sees that drive in his father today. “I understand how wrestling played a big part in his life.”
Nathan also said he can look at a picture of his dad wrestling and put himself in that place.
“That’s what separated my dad,” Nathan said. “Ever since I became a freshman, my intensity has increased. Maybe it’s just that I’ve grown up. All I know is that I pick up the intensity more now in practice.”
Nathan also hopes to win a state championship this season and hopes to take pride in becoming one of the first state champs for a relatively new high school program. Nathan also understands that winning is not guaranteed and hopes to learn how to adjust to any setbacks he may have on the mat.
“Hearing my dad’s stories inspires me,” Nathan said.
So too are the photographic memories that last three generations … and beyond.