For decades, the Joe DeMeo Award has been a means of recognizing not only wrestling achievement, but upstanding character and the pursuit of academic excellence in Section II.
After the legendary coach passed away at the age of 79 on Oct. 2, the award in his name will not only live on, but his son Michael and some of Joe DeMeo’s former stars intend to put a strong finishing move on this part of his legacy by also offering scholarship money toward higher education to the recipient.
In light of COVID-19 restrictions — but also the strong desire by the wrestling world to honor DeMeo — his family has arranged for an automobile procession through St. Anthony Cemetery at 27 Glenridge Road in Schenectady from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, in lieu of traditional funeral services.
Meanwhile, Michael DeMeo has been busy formulating plans to open a Coach DeMeo Foundation that will fund the scholarship, ideally in time for the next academic year.
“This is really a phoenix-rising moment, where we take what did help instill tremendous confidence and was more of an affirmation of, hey, you were a great Section II wrestler, you should continue on, and this award validates that pursuit,” Michael DeMeo said on Friday. “In this case, we’re saying, let’s give that a second life and a second format.”
Joe DeMeo graduated from Mont Pleasant High School in 1960 and wrestled for Cornell University before becoming a long-time coach at every level up to the U.S. National Team, which named him Developmental Coach of the Year in 2005.
He 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. His roster of stars also includes Olympians Shawn Sheldon, Andy Seras, Ike Anderson, Frank Famiano and Chris Catalfo, as well as two-time women’s world champion Kristie Davis.
DeMeo founded the Adirondack Three-Style Wrestling Association, which produced 28 champions at a variety of levels, and coached wrestlers at UAlbany to All-American status 47 times.
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.
“His narrative arc was … Italian-American from a working class family, from Mont Pleasant High School, who applied himself academically and athletically and got a golden ticket to go to Cornell University,” Michael DeMeo said. “The rest of the story really tells itself.
“What we want this foundation to represent is opportunities for the next generation of student-athletes who maybe come from a similar socio-economic background and don’t have the means of the leg up, so this could provide an opportunity. I’m talking about a student-athlete who accomplishes something both in the arena of academics as well as athletics in the sport of wrestling in that Section II community and needs a little leg up to get to the next educational level.”
Michael DeMeo said there has been “tremendous outreach” over the last week from the wrestling community seeking a way to not only preserve Joe DeMeo’s legacy, but enhance it in a way that will help young wrestlers in the future.
He said the likely course is a 501(3)(c) non-profit to fund the scholarship.
“At this point, it is just a concept,” DeMeo said. “We want to honor the tradition, but we also want to create an opportunity for that next generation of athlete, for that next wrestler from Section II who could also experience the type of actualization that my father created during his life.”
He has alerted the ATWA community to Saturday’s public procession.
Attendees must wear face masks and observe social distancing, and are being asked to come in groups of no more than four per vehicle. They’ll be allowed to visit the burial site and pay respects.
Michael DeMeo’s announcement also said the family intends to hold a Celebration of Life Ceremony at an undetermined time and place, “When our world returns to normalcy (after the pandemic) and it is socially responsible to gather in groups again.”