Anthony V. Cipriano wanted everyone to feel like they mattered.
The lifelong Copiague resident and longtime coach of the Copiague High School wrestling team spent many nights at his hometown pizza parlor, Joe’s Pizza on Montauk Highway, making the rounds and forming connections with the people around him.
“There were a lot of older guys [at the pizzeria] whose wives had died,” said sister Lisa Cipriano-Hilker of Copiague. “They were just lonely. He would always find the person, older or younger, who just needed somebody to recognize them and just chat with them for a minute — just to make them feel good for that short period of time.”
Anthony Cipriano, the youngest of four siblings, died July 11 at South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore after a short battle with liver cancer, his family said. He was 52.
Cipriano was a physical education teacher in the Copiague School District for 27 years, teaching the last 15 at Susan E. Wiley Elementary School.
“He had a passion for mentoring children, it really didn't matter what age,” said brother Nick Cipriano III of Virginia. “Having the opportunity to be able to mold them at such a young age and see them grow through the years, I think he really enjoyed that very much. He mentored them to become great, productive citizens and people. That's what he was all about."
Anthony Cipriano led the Copiague High School wrestling program for 15 years, recording his 100th dual meet victory last season. His team won the Suffolk League III tournament title in 2016, the only such title in the 64-year history of the program. He coached 25 individual league champions, four Suffolk County champions and one state champion — Malik Leftenant, who won at 220 pounds in Division I in 2020, according to Newsday records.
“His season never ended,” said Darwin Ryan of Sayville, Cipriano’s longtime assistant. “From September to the following September, he was always coaching and taking our kids all over the country, finding the best coaches and the best training . . . He’s a father to hundreds of kids.”
Cipriano, who was affectionately known as "Coach Cip," started the Captains Club Wresting Foundation along with his brother in 2014, which aids kids in need of economic assistance for athletics, whether it be equipment, camp fees or other expenses.
“He lived for all of his children that surrounded him in the elementary school, the middle school, and the high school,” his brother said. “That was his extended family. He did for them everything that he could possibly do.
“[He] was a very humble man who never bragged about himself. He would not allow us to name it 'Coach Cip’s Wrestling Foundation.’ We plan to submit a change to the state in order to get that [name] changed.”
Cipriano was a champion of inclusion in wrestling and was at the forefront of a push to bring girls into the sport.
“If you want to wrestle, you’re welcome in our room anytime,” Ryan said. “He was one of the first to invite girls into our practice [approximately] 15 years ago. He was very open-minded that way. Our sport is for everybody.”
Born Jan. 25, 1970, at Brunswick Hospital in Amityville, Cipriano was an All-County football player at Copiague High School, playing both guard and linebacker. He received a partial athletic scholarship to play football at SUNY-Maritime. He played one college season, hurt his knee, and left the program to help run the family food and beverage distribution business when his father fell ill in the early 1990s. He later earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education from Adelphi, his family said.
He also was an assistant football coach within the district, at both the middle and high school levels.
Cipriano’s devotion to Copiague — from the pizza parlors to the wrestling mats — shined through in everything he did. He bled Copiague blue, and his athletes loved him for it.
“He was from the community,” Ryan said. “He was one of them. The kids always respond to that. He was always very honest. He was a unique soul, a unicorn.”
Said sister Christina Campbell of Copiague: “He made every one of those kids feel that they were important enough to be somebody in their life, that they could make it in life, and not just be another kid from Copiague or Amityville that just didn't make it through high school. He wanted to see these kids make it through high school and be productive citizens after high school.”
“He always made sure that they knew that he believed in them,” Lisa Cipriano said. “And, if he believed in them, then they had to believe in themselves.”
In addition to his siblings, Anthony Cipriano is survived by his mother, Gloria Cipriano of Copiague, grandmother Edie Miozzi of Queens, aunt Patricia Cipriano of Florida, uncle Ronald Cipriano of Florida, brother-in-law Joseph Hilker of Copiague, nine nieces and nephews, and six great-nieces and nephews. He is also survived by Empress Staubitz of Pennsylvania, a former wrestler who he served as legal guardian of when she was in high school, her husband Alfonso and her son, Roman. He is predeceased by father Nicholas Cipriano II and brother-in-law Nathaniel Campbell. He was buried at Mount St. Mary’s Cemetery in Queens, his family said.
With Andy Slawson