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A streak of their own: Brandon couple has supported Eagles wrestling for 38 years

BRANDON

It started with a snapshot from a Brandon High wrestling meet, when Gerald Ford was president and gas cost 53 cents a gallon.

Norm Rhein, a former high school wrestler, started going to Eagles matches when he moved to town in 1975.

Rhein also started saving newspaper clippings from meets. One time, a newspaper published a photo from a meet and Norm was pictured in the background.

"That sold him," Betsy Rhein, 72, said.

Ever since that photo, the Rheins have been in the picture for Brandon wrestling.

Through the program's legendary 34-year unbeaten streak, through its current skein of 13 consecutive state titles, the Rheins have seen almost every Eagles match.

It's practically a streak all their own.

• • •

Norm Rhein won the 1945 city championship as a Chicago high school wrestler and earned a trip to the state championships, wrestling at 112 pounds.

His love of the sport never waned and when he moved to Brandon he read about the Eagles program and started going to matches.

Oddly enough, the Rheins never had a child compete in wrestling. Both their children, James and Denise, graduated from Brandon but neither wrestled or played sports.

Still, Norm's interest in Brandon wrestling continued and Betsy became his meet buddy. Now, 38 years later, they're still going to meets.

"They've always been there to help the kids," Brandon wrestling coach Russ Cozart said. "They've taken different roles of support over the years."

Betsy helped restart the tradition of bringing baked goods for the Eagle wrestlers after the meets.

Norm has 17 scrapbooks chronicling Brandon wrestling over the last four decades. The Rheins sit mat side, whenever possible, take notes and offer advice to Eagle wrestlers.

"When we do meets for the club, we go and get chairs and put them mat side," Cozart said of his club matches. "For high school, we can't really do that, but we make sure and sit them in a good spot."

• • •

A health scare nearly broke the Rheins' support in winter 1986. Norm had heart surgery on Dec. 18 of that year. As he lay in a hospital bed recovering, he called Betsy over.

"I remember, he said 'Go down to the wrestling match and tell me how it went,' " Betsy Rhein said. "He wanted to be a part of it."

By early January, Norm was back in the gym for Brandon's first meet of 1987.

"He just had to be there," Betsy Rhein said. "He had just had heart surgery and kids are coming down the steps putting their hands on his shoulder."

The Rheins' bond with Brandon wrestling has only strengthened over the years.

"It keeps him alive," Betsy Rhein said.

• • •

All the wrestling number-crunching and details help keep the Rheins' minds sharp.

The Rheins serve as a resource for young Eagle wrestlers, tracking their results in every meet.

They have sheaves of papers documenting wrestling results for years. If you wanted to see five-time state champion Clark Glass' match results from 2011, the Rheins have them. If you wanted to see match results for Cozart's son, Joe, in his first state title in 2007, the Rheins have them.

For the last few years, Betsy has constructed handmade score sheets, where she tracks rounds and results at meets.

"It doesn't all stay upstairs anymore," Betsy Rhein said. "When we go home, we want to remember."

The hand-drawn sheets are a great reference, not just for Betsy and Norm but for the whole team.

"You'd be surprised how many people come up and ask me what happened in this round or that round," Betsy Rhein said. "Some families will ask us questions at states (about particular wrestlers) if they haven't come to all the meets during the season."

• • •

It's clear the Rheins mean an awful lot to Brandon wrestling — and Brandon wrestling means an awful lot to the Rheins. It's part of what bonds the couple.

"I try to do things that he likes," Betsy Rhein said. "If we don't go, I hear about it."

Don't think for a moment, however, that Betsy has been doing Norm a favor for 38 years. She says she probably gets more out of it than he does.

The Rheins will travel to Gateway High School in Kissimmee this weekend for the Troy Smith Duals. Though the program's streak of 459 unbeaten dual matches ended in 2008, Brandon wrestling and the Rheins have begun new streaks while sustaining other traditions.

"When the streak broke, people didn't come out as much," Betsy Rhein said. "We still came."

Norm plans to travel with the team to Minnesota for a meet later in the season.

"It's something to do," Norm Rhein said. "It's interesting to see the kids progress since they start and every year get better. We've seen a lot of good wrestlers over the years and every year it gets more competitive."

Clearly, Norm and Betsy Rhein are not going anywhere when it comes to Brandon wrestling. And they have another streak more impressive than the program's consecutive string of unbeaten dual matches: 48 years of marriage.

Andy Warrener can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

A streak of their own: Brandon couple has supported Eagles wrestling for 38 years 11/20/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 5:05pm]
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