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Wilkes Mourns the Passing of John Reese

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of John Reese. Coach Reese served as director of athletics at Wilkes for 34 years (1958-92) and as head wrestling coach for 42 years. From 1953 -95, John Reese guided the Colonels to 39 winning seasons. Coach Reese will be remembered as one of the winningest coaches in NCAA wrestling history with 515 wins; he was only the second wrestling coach in the NCAA to top 500 wins. Under his leadership, the wrestling program gained national attention with 40 winning seasons, 14 Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) titles, the 1974 Division III National Championship and a nationally ranked Division I program.

During his tenure, John Reese coached 10 individual national champions, 61 MAC champions and 46 All-Americans. In 1976, he moved Wilkes wrestling from Division III and the MAC into Division I and the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA). Although it was the smallest Division I program in the country, under his leadership Wilkes produced 87 EIWA place-winners, including eight champions and five Division I All-Americans.

Coach Reese was also responsible for creating the Wilkes Open, often referred to as “The Rose Bowl of Wrestling” which is held annually during winter break.  He has been inducted into ten sports Halls of Fame including the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Following his retirement, Coach Reese was a frequent visitor to campus, regularly attending wrestling matches and tournaments and watching football games from the hill at the Ralston Athletic Complex.  A native of Kingston, Pennsylvania, Coach Reese and his late wife, Patsy, were parents to three children – Jeff, Megan and Lynn.  Reese’s devotion to Patsy is widely known and expressed at Wilkes through his family’s establishment of the Patricia “Patsy” Reese Annual Nursing Scholarship in her memory.

In 2015, Coach Reese’s lifelong commitment to Wilkes was celebrated when he was presented with the President’s Medal, the University’s most prestigious honor, by Wilkes President Patrick F. Leahy at the annual Founders Gala. His motto, “Victory goes to those who are willing to pay the price,” has inspired decades of Wilkes student-athletes and will, no doubt, be remembered by Colonels for years to come.    

We extend our thoughts and prayers to members of the Reese family, and will share details about services when they become available.