Forty years ago, freshman Roger Reina stepped foot on Penn’s campus as a starting member of the wrestling team. That was only the beginning of his lifelong commitment and dedication to the sport that has made him a legend in the wrestling community.
After graduating in 1984, he served as head coach Larry Lauchle’s assistant at Penn for two years. In his time as an assistant coach, Reina was thinking about his future, which at the time did not include wrestling.
“I had no intention to coach full time," Reina said. “I was taking some final classes I needed to take to apply to veterinary school, and that’s what I thought I was going to be — a veterinarian."
After Lauchle announced his retirement in 1986, Reina was presented with what he thought was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to become the head coach of his alma mater. He jumped at the chance, and with that move he became the youngest Division I wrestling head coach at age 24.
“I was young enough to have absolutely no fear, so I probably should’ve had some fear, but I was too young, and maybe a little too bold. It was tough because there were guys on the team who were teammates of mine,” Reina said. “It was a really special opportunity to be able to contribute to the program that I came through and to future generations of Penn wrestlers.”
In his first coaching stint with Penn from 1986 to 2005, he notched a program-high 205 wins and a .649 winning percentage. During that time, he led the Quakers to eight Ivy League titles and four Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association championships. Along with overall team success, he also recruited outstanding individual talent, including NCAA champions Brett Matter and Matt Valenti and Olympic gold medalist Brandon Slay.
While 2005 was the end of his first stretch leading the Quakers, his engagement with the wrestling community at large continued. He next helped launch the Pennsylvania Regional Training Center, a wrestling program whose "mission is to create an ecosystem for elite student-athletes to strive toward national and international success in wrestling and in life." He still serves as the program's board chairman.
Reina would return to Penn in 2015, but in a different role. Until 2017, he served as Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs for Penn Athletics. In 2017, Reina was once again presented with the opportunity to coach at Penn and couldn’t turn it down.
“I got asked to consider coming back to take the program over and here was a twice-in-a-lifetime kind of thing," Reina said. “I was like, ‘Holy smokes, how did this happen again?'"
Throughout his long career in wrestling, Reina has been lauded time and time again for his accomplishments and dedication. In 2008, he was inducted into the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame, then one year later was inducted into the EIWA Hall of Fame.
Most recently, in 2017, he was also inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame’s Pennsylvania chapter. While the accolades are a tremendous achievement for him personally, the presence of having a Hall of Fame coach in college is not lost to the Penn players.
“Seeing his passion for wrestling and Penn and the broader community in Philadelphia just really inspires all of us to A, give back, and then B, compete at our best, and really perform under his reign,” fifth-year senior captain A.J. Vindici said.
For Reina, the intricacies and details involved in wrestling are what drives his passion to stay involved in the community as much as possible.
“Wrestling always captured my fascination, the individual aspect of it combined with an overarching team aspect,” Reina said. “The intensity that comes with our sport, I really appreciate that and the people that tend to choose this sport. That community I think is a really special community of people.”
When he is not involved in wrestling, Reina likes to get out of the gym and enjoy the outdoors.
“I climbed Mount Rainier once, when I first stepped down from coaching the first time in 2005,” Reina said. “I’m set to do that again next August, so that’s kind of my target.”
Now entering his 22nd season overall as the program’s winningest coach with 219 victories, Reina hopes to continue to guide the Red and Blue to continued success, while simultaneously building on his Hall of Fame career.