The ninth Gift of Life Wrestling Duals will be held on Saturday, Jan. 12, at St. Benedict’s High, in Newark.
The event focuses on the need for organ donation, and is spearheaded by the legendary Michael DiPiano Sr., who has been a staunch advocate for the importance of organ donation, especially after his life was saved 20 years ago last October when he received a new liver and pancreas from a donor.
DiPiano had a tremendous career as a wrestling coach and administrator at St. Benedict’s High School. However, his health had taken a turn for the worst over 20 years ago, and at one time, he had the Last Rites administered by St. Benedict’s Headmaster, Fr. Edwin Leahy.
Michael DiPiano (right) with sons Michael (left) and Frank. All three are in the St. Benedict’s Athletic Hall of Fame. (Click on photos for larger image)
“They were planning my funeral at St. Benedict’s,” DiPiano recalled. “And now today, I’m celebrating a new lease on life. That’s why it’s so important to understand the need for organ donation and why this wrestling tournament is so special to me.”
This year’s tournament will begin at 10:30 a.m. There are four teams competing, in Nutley, St. Benedict’s, Barringer and Demarest High Schools. The first features St. Benedict’s vs. Demarest, while Nutley takes on Barringer.
The second round of wrestling starts at noon, with Nutley facing Demarest and St. Benedict’s against Barringer. Following the second round, there will be a Gift of Life presentation, where DiPiano speaks of compelling stories on how organ donation not only saved him, but a number of other lives in the local area.
The Gift of Life Duals began in 2011 and will celebrate its ninth renewal this Jan. 12.
At about 1:45 p.m., the final round of wrestling begins, with Nutley vs. St. Benedict’s and Barringer vs. Demarest.
The theme of the event is once again ‘Organ Donation is a Major Decision‘, using a wrestling analogy to emphasize the need for people to become organ donors, usually by a notation on their driver’s license.
DiPiano’s sons, Michael and Frank are both actively involved with high school wrestling. Michael is the head coach at Nutley, while Frank is an administrator at St. Benedict’s and a one-time head coach at Nutley. Before Michael succeeded his younger brother at Nutley, he was the head coach at Demarest. Both Michael and Frank, along with their dad, are enshrined in the St. Benedict’s Hall of Fame.
In May of 2011, Michael DiPiano Sr. received St. Benedict’s highest honor afforded to a Lay person, the Medal of St. Benedict’s.
Among the many charitable events Mike attends to is playing Santa Claus for children in local hospitals.
This past year was an especially memorable one for DiPiano Sr,, who celebrated his 20th year of good health, after receiving a double organ donation from a young man named Sean, who was killed in an automobile accident on Oct. 24, 1998. A day later, Michael received a pancreas and liver from Sean, who had indicated his desire to be an organ donor, on his driver’s license.
Michael Sr. has a tattoo on his arm, remembering Sean’s sacrifice, with the date 10-25-98, along with Sean and Mike’s name.
The tattoo say it all. (Click on photo for larger image)
On New Year’s Day, 2020, Michael DiPiano Sr. will be appearing in the Rose Bowl parade, in Pasadena, California, to be honored for his tireless work on passing the word on the need to be an organ donor. Also, in 2020, the Transplant Games will be held at the Meadowlands, from July 17-22, and DiPiano was on hand last winter, at MetLife Stadium, when that announcement was made.
DiPiano has also traveled the globe, competing in multiple Transplant Games, in track and field, while also speaking at many schools and other organizations.
“I’ve been very blessed over the years,” said DiPiano, a husband, father and grandfather. “I can never thank my donor, Sean, enough for saving my life. There have been so many lives saved by organ donation, but there are so many more lives that can be saved with more people signing up to be donors.”
DiPiano and his wife, Karen, have been married for nearly 46 years. They have three children, Michael, Michelle and Frank and a grand daughter, Mia, who is in the eighth grade.