"He can truly be called the person responsible for Clarion's outstanding athletic tradition, and was the catalyst for the Golden Eagles' greatest successes for more than six decades," according to the school's official announcement.
How Lignelli became that major force at Clarion is something of a happy accident.
Upon completing his service in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946, Lignelli was accepted to Penn State.
"As was the custom then, Penn State asked Lignelli to attend California State for a year or two and then transfer to Penn State," said the Clarion tribute to Lignelli. "His transcripts, however, were mistakenly sent to Clarion University instead, and the long-time love affair between Lignelli and Clarion began."
Frank LignelliAs a Clarion student-athlete, Lignelli earned four varsity letters as a wrestler at 175 pounds ... as well as receiving letters in football and baseball. After graduating from Clarion in 1950, Lignelli taught at North Versailles and Monongahela High Schools before returning to Clarion to teach and coach in 1957. An assistant football coach for the next 13 seasons, Lignelli restarted the wrestling program in the 1959-60 season, coaching for seven seasons. As head wrestling coach, Lignelli claimed a 69-11-1 overall record which included the PSAC (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) title in 1965. In 1966, he became Clarion's third athletic director, serving in that position for two decades. After taking a one-year sabbatical leave, Lignelli returned to serve as A.D. through December 31, 1990.
During Lignelli's time as athletic director, Clarion athletic teams won 11 national championships, 59 PSAC titles, 22 PSAC runner-up finishes, 40 PSAC-West crowns, and numerous NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) district titles.
For these achievements, Lignelli was welcomed into the NAIA and EWL (Eastern Wrestling League) Halls of Fame, the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, the PSAC Wrestling Hall of Fame, and the National Association of Collegiate Athletic Directors (NACDA) Hall of Fame.
"We were deeply saddened to learn that Frank Lignelli has passed away," said Clarion Director of Athletics Dr. Wendy Snodgrass. "He devoted his life to making Clarion University a better place for all students and our especially our student-athletes, helping to give them the college experience that they deserve. In doing so, our programs enjoyed unprecedented success, and created a legacy that we all share pride in. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Joyce, his children Joy and Lee, and all other family and friends that were touched by his life."
Visitation for Frank Lignelli will be held on Thursday, September 5 from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at Gobles Funeral Home in Clarion. The funeral will be held on Friday, September 6 at the First United Methodist Church in Clarion.