Ryan Needle's last victory of his high school career didn't come on the wrestling mat at the state meet. It came Tuesday night when the Newfane senior was awarded the eighth annual Ilio DiPaolo Wrestling Scholarship.
The ceremony, which honors wrestlers who excel in academics as well as athletics, was held before a gathering of 200 at Ilio DiPaolo's Restaurant in Blasdell. The award is named for DiPaolo, the pro wrestler and community leader who was struck and killed by a car in 1995. The scholarship fund has awarded $60,000 to Western New York wrestlers.
Helping present the awards were scholarship fund spokesmen Bud Carpenter, Dennis DiPaolo, Jim Kelly, Steve Tasker, Ruben Brown, Alex Van Pelt and Carmen Basilio.
"This is like the highest award for a Western New York wrestler to get," said Needle, who accepted the award from DiPaolo. "To get picked for it from all the kids, because it's athletics and academics, means a lot, too."
Needle kept his grades a priority and was a member of the National Honor Society. He will take his considerable talents to Ohio State University, where he has signed a national letter of intent. The Buckeyes finished the 2003 dual campaign 12-7 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten. Needle plans to study health and physical education or sports medicine.
Needle once said being at a wrestling tournament was "like spending a day at Darien Lake." But his opponents found that facing him was no day at the park.
USA Wrestling Magazine ranked Needle No. 6 among high school seniors at 140 pounds. He ended his six-year varsity career on a 90-match winning streak. He joins Jeff Prescott of Olean as the only wrestlers in Western New York to win three New York State titles.
In March, Needle won the 140-pound class. He won at 130 his junior year and at 96 as an eighth-grader. Needle is a four-time Section VI champion and a six-time Niagara-Orleans League champ. His 240 career wins (against 12 losses) are a Western New York record.
His community service includes working with handicapped children at the Equi-Star Horse Ranch in Appleton and landscaping work at St. Charles Catholic Church in Olcott.
In other awards:
Jaymee Minner of Salamanca won the Gary Costanza Memorial Award, named for the late martial arts expert. Minner placed fourth at the state meet at 145. He's an honor roll student who's still undecided about his college choice.
Wil Sidey of Fredonia, who was 40-1 this season, was presented the Dick "The Destroyer" Award by former pro wrestling star Dick "The Destroyer" Beyer. Sidey was a three-time Class AA champion and went 112-22 during his career.
Daniel Murrer of Williamsville East earned the Bill Hein/Most Dedicated Wrestler Award. Murrer placed fifth at the state meet at 160. He has a 3.5 grade-point average.
Larry Aceti of Niagara Falls received the Special Recognition Award. The six-year varsity wrestler won a school-record 181 matches. He's a four-year member of the National Honor Society with a current average of 99.8.
The St. Francis Captain Award went to John Lambert, an all-conference athlete in three sports.