Joe DeMeo, who excelled on the wrestling mat and went on to help so many others do the same in a decorated and decades-long coaching career, died early Friday morning at the age of 79.
DeMeo wrestled at Mont Pleasant High School and made one of his coaching stops at the University at Albany. In 2005, he was inducted into the Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame.
“He was a big figure in the wrestling community and a no-brainer to get into the Schenectady City School District Hall of Fame,” said Bob Pezzano, the hall of fame’s chairman. “He was recognized by everybody.”
That included U.S. Wrestling, which tabbed the Niskayuna resident as the 2005 Developmental Coach of the Year and three times selected him the National Coach of the Year.
“He impressed people no matter where he was doing his thing,” Pezzano said.
“The Mont Pleasant community has lost a great one,” said John Conway, a 1975 Mont Pleasant graduate who coached wrestling for years at Duanesburg and also earned numerous accolades as an official of the sport. “He was very bright, first of all. He was a Cornell graduate. He comes from a very competitive family. He just had it.”
DeMeo was a member of the U.S. Olympic coaching staff in 1976, 1980, 1988 and 1992, and mentored 1984 Olympic champions Jeff Blatnick and Dave Schultz. He also worked with Olympians Shawn Sheldon, Andy Seras, Ike Anderson, Frank Famiano and Chris Catalfo, as well as two-time women’s world champion Kristie Davis.
“There were so many guys he produced,” Columbia High School wrestling coach Anthony Servidone said. “He was amazing.”
DeMeo spent the last 10 years of his illustrious coaching career at Columbia, working as an assistant at different levels including Servidone’s varsity squad.
“I’d be in school teaching, and he’d call me up seven to 10 times a day,” Servidone laughed. “He was all business. All wrestling. He taught me so much.”
DeMeo was assistant wrestling coach at Michigan State from 1967-1969, head coach at Stanford University from 1969-1977, head coach at the University at Albany from 1978-1995, four-time head coach and 16-time assistant coach of the U.S. Senior Greco-Roman World Team, two-time head coach and two-time assistant coach of the U.S. Greco-Roman Pan Am Team, two-time head coach of the U.S. Greco-Roman Junior World Team, and four-time assistant coach for the U.S. Greco-Roman Olympic Team.
“He had a lot of champions, that’s for sure,” Conway said.
Conway remembers the time DeMeo paid a visit to the Mont Pleasant wrestling room during his days competing in the sport there.
“Joe came back from California [Stanford] and I was a junior in high school,” Conway said. “Coach [Larry] Mulvaney gave him the reins, and he taught us different concepts I had never heard of. Action and reaction and a lot of other concepts. He left such a big impact on me.”
“He made an impact at the local, state and national levels,” Pezzano said.
DeMeo founded the Adirondack Three-Style Wrestling Association, which thrived in the 1980s and out of which emerged a slew of champions at various levels.
“Joe was my coach from 1980 until I retired in 2001. He was a great coach and I would not have accomplished what I did in wrestling without him in my corner,” Sheldon wrote on his Facebook page. “He has touched many people’s lives and was very important in mine. Joe made people stand up and recognize in the wrestling community that there was something special happening in Albany, NY with ATWA.”
DeMeo played football and wrestled at Mont Pleasant under Mulvaney’s tutelage from 1958 through 1960. On the mat he went undefeated in dual meets in his three years and, as a junior and senior, captured Section II championships. He was voted the best wrestler in Section II as a senior and received the Mastroianni Award.
DeMeo wrestled three years at Cornell and had a pair of undefeated dual meet seasons and lost just one dual meet. He also went undefeated against Ivy League opponents, and after his collegiate stint, won at the National Freestyle Championships and placed fourth in the 1964 Olympic trials.
“Everyone thinks of him as a coaching legend,” Servidone said. “He was also a heck of a football player and an outstanding wrestler.”
Twenty eight of DeMeo’s ATWA members won national championships at the schoolboy, high school, college and open division levels. At Stanford and UAlbany, his teams won 289 dual meets, and at UAlbany he produced 47 All-Americans and eight times finished in the top 10 at the NCAA Division III tournament. He also had four NCAA Division III champions, and 11 of his former wrestlers made an Olympic team.
“You could tell him a move, and he’d tell you a counter,” Conway said. “He had great knowledge of the sport.”
Four of DeMeo’s former wrestlers — Seras, Sheldon, Dale Oliver and Isaac Ramaswamy — became World Team coaches, and Seras and Sheldon also became Olympic Team coaches.
“He was the first breakthrough guy in wrestling in our area,” Servidone said.
Aside from the SCSD Athletic Hall of Fame, DeMeo is a member of the New York State College Wrestling Hall of Fame, the Cornell University Hall of Fame, the University at Albany Hall of Fame and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“There were so many lives he touched,” Servidone said. “I’m a lucky guy. I got to spend 10 good years with him.”
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