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Tom Riccio, renowned high school wrestling official, dies at 77

Tom Riccio (right) at his daughter Debra's wedding

Tom Riccio (right) at his daughter Debra's wedding on Dec. 14, 1996. Photo Credit: Nancy Farley

It didn’t matter where Tom H. Riccio was, someone always recognized him.

“Everywhere we went, people would stop my dad,” said daughter Debra Riccio, 53, of Manhattan. “Everybody knew him on Long Island. Growing up, you think your dad is a celebrity when he isn’t, but as a young girl, I used to say, ‘Wow, everybody knows my dad.’ I was so proud.”

Riccio, a renowned high school wrestling official and a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, died Sept. 9 at his home in Murrells Inlet, S.C., after a 15-month battle with ALS, his family said. He was 77.

Riccio was someone worth knowing, especially in the high school wrestling community. He was involved in the sport in some capacity for 60 years. As an official in Suffolk County for 24 years, he was considered one of the best – often called upon to work the most important matches of the season. He worked five New York State tournaments, showcasing his skills at the highest high school level.

“He had a real feel for the sport,” said former longtime Babylon High School wrestling coach Rudy Carastro, 76, of East Patchogue. "He was very fair, knew when to make a call, and when not to. He had very good judgment.”

Riccio was the first president and co-founder of the Suffolk County Wrestling Officials Association and founded Rocky Point PAL wrestling. As a final salute to the sport he loved, he served as the wrestling coach at Riverhead High School from 2015-2018, where he recruited Carastro to be his assistant. Riccio had previously been an assistant at Riverhead.

“Every holiday we spent with him, he would talk so much about the kids that I knew their names, but didn’t know them,” Debra said.  “That’s what he took home. The family knew the kids at Riverhead wrestling. He was just so invested in them.”

Riccio was born on Jan. 22, 1942 in the Bronx, but moved with his family to Huntington Station when he was 13. He would become the captain of the wrestling and football teams at Walt Whitman High School. He attended Hofstra on a wrestling scholarship. 

Debra said Riccio became a carpenter and later operated his own custom building company. As a union carpenter in Suffolk, he spent the majority of his career working at the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant in Wading River and helped build Ward Melville High School in Setauket, Debra said. Riccio had homes in Rocky Point, Wading River and Baitiing Hollow, some of which he built himself, Debra said.

As a father of two, Riccio spent as much time with his children as his job and wrestling obligations would allow. He bought Debra her first baseball glove and encouraged her to play on an all-boys Little League baseball team, Debra said.

Riccio’s encouraging nature blended well with a raw competitiveness. He never missed any of Debra’s high school cross country track meets, finding spots along the trail to track his daughter’s progress.

“Every time I ran in cross country, my father would pop out of the woods somewhere on the course, twice, yelling at me that whoever was behind me was 100 yards behind me and I needed to pick up my legs,” she said. “He’d come out like a deer and almost scare me.”

Riccio loved golf and Corvettes, and people were drawn to his jovial, happy-go-lucky personality. 

“He was very charismatic, very charming, and had that thing that drew people in,” Debra said. “People just liked to be around him.”

Riccio is survived by his wife of 28 years, Ann, ex-wife and close friend Nancy Farley of Virginia, daughter Debra, brothers Daniel of Virginia and Martin of Huntington, sisters Janet Zorsky of Delaware and Joy Lanuto of Huntington, and two granddaughters. He is predeceased by son Marc, brother Ernest, and sister Gloria D’Eletto.   

Services were held last weekend in South Carolina. A celebration of his life will occur on Long Island in December, though the date is not yet known, Debra said. Riccio was cremated, the family said.

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