Many will say they built a school athletic program from the ground up. But how many really built the program brick by brick?
Guy Leggio actually did it.
The longtime East Islip wrestling coach, who retired after 26 years at the helm, was honored Saturday night before the finals of the 29th Annual Rocky Gilmore Memorial Tournament in Islip Terrace.
Leggio — with his 81-year-old dad, Jumper, by his side Saturday — wept as East Islip named its $1.2-million wrestling room in his honor. The 85x60-foot space, complete with controlled heating system and one of Suffolk’s largest wrestling mats, is now known as the Guy Leggio Wrestling Room.
“This is a special place that a group of volunteers and close friends built from the ground up just over 14 years ago,” Leggio recalled. “And all those people are responsible and share in the success of this program. We did this block by block. My name is on the wall and for that I am forever grateful. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to do in this community. It’s always been about our student-athletes.”
Leggio, 52, a bricklayer by trade, was instrumental in the design and the construction of the building. By his estimate, the room, has been home to thousands of wrestlers in the KID program.
“We had practice in an auxiliary gymnasium for the wrestling team,” said Leggio, who led East Islip to 12 league titles and 85 individual league champions. “It was a terrible workout environment. But we were a close-knit team all those years and we persevered through the hardships of an unacceptable workout area and years of austerity that threatened to ruin the program.”
The Rocky Gilmore Tournament hosted nine schools, including Leggio’s alma mater from Bay Shore, where he graduated in 1981. The Marauders made him proud with a second-place finish.
Half Hollow Hills East moved seven wrestlers into the finals and came away with five champions to win the tournament with 295.5 points.
Mount Sinai’s Luke Marino edged Griffin Arcuri of Hills East, 2-1, for the 182-pound title to earn the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler.
Bay Shore crowned three champions and scored 246.5 points.
“This tournament helps develop individuals,” Leggio said. “We guarantee every wrestler at least two matches when they come here.”
With Leggio retired, putting the Gilmore tournament together was a lot more difficult this year than the previous 28.
“You have no idea what kind of an impact someone has on a program or an event until they’re not involved,” said Mike Longobardi, who served as Leggio’s assistant for 10 years, before taking the helm this year. “Guy did everything for this tournament from picking up the wrestling mats from opposing schools in his truck to the cleanup at the end of the day. We had a lot of holes to fill without him.”
It was another testament to a fellow who had a major influence on a program that will be missed and never forgotten.
Leggio’s proudest moment may have come in 2006 when the Redmen earned the Suffolk sectional title and were ranked second in the state.
On an individual level he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma in 2015. A year earlier, he was named the National High School Coach of the Year from New York.
“Guy Leggio is passionate about wrestling and an excellent role model for our coaches and wrestlers,” Longobardi said. “He’s a father figure to many and dedicated his life’s work to our success here at East Islip. He started our KID program and built a room with his bare hands. He’s one of a kind.”
That one of a kind Guy gave out all the tournament awards and then helped clean the bleachers late Saturday night.
How about that?