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Death of Dick DiBatista, legendary wrestler, coach, referee

Dick DiBatista, legendary wrestler, coach and referee, passed away at Riddle Memorial Hospital in Pennsylvania on Feb. 29, 2020 ... though his death was not widely reported until Wednesday, March 25, 2020. He was 99 years old.

Born in Palombaro, Italy in October 1920, Richard "Dick" DiBatista and his family moved to Ardmore, Pa. when he was a young boy. DiBatista graduated from Lower Merion High School in 1938, then attended Franklin & Marshall Academy before arriving at University of Pennsylvania, where he received a B.S. in Education in 1943 and an M.S. in Education in 1946.

Dick DiBatista
"Dick was a distinguished athlete in football, track and wrestling," according to Tom Elling, Pennsylvania wrestling writer and historian, who shared his tribute to DiBatista on his Tom's Wrestling Page on Facebook . "Certainly, wrestling was his best sport, as he never lost a wrestling match, posting a remarkable undefeated 137-0 career record that included high school, prep school, college and amateur competition. He became the first Pennsylvania State Wrestling Champion in 1938 and National Prep School Champion in 1939. As a Penn wrestler, Dick or "DiBi", as he was known, was arguably the most accomplished wrestler in Quaker history. With an undefeated record, he won the EIWA Championship in 1941, 1942, and 1943 and captured the NCAA Championship in 1941 and 1942. Dick was on the 1940 and 1944 Olympic teams, although the Games were not held because of World War II. During the War, Dick served as 2nd Lieutenant in the Marines and was stationed in the South Pacific."

In his adult life, DiBatista enjoyed a 37-year career as a teacher and coach at Lower Merion High School. He continued to officiate wrestling events at the collegiate level and also served as the Director of Lower Merion summer recreation programs.

DiBatista earned a number of honors over the course of his long life and career, including creating the Dick DiBatista Wrestling Facility at Lower Merion School District which was named in his honor in 2005. He was inducted into the Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1974, the District One Hall of Fame in 1990, the National Officials Hall of Fame in 1996, and the Delaware County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame and the EIWA (Easter Intercollegiate Wrestling Assocation) Officials organization. DiBatista was also welcomed into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1995.

"On behalf of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, I want to extend our condolences to the family and friends of a beloved man who graced the sport of wrestling for many decades," said Lee Roy Smith, Executive Director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla., in a statement issued on Wednesday, March 25. "It's hard to find the words that could even compare to what Dick DiBatista actually achieved in his lifetime as a student, wrestler, football player, teacher, wrestling coach and official, and Marine Veteran. He is one of the greatest upper-weight wrestlers in United States history and is considered a pillar in the great wrestling heritage in Pennsylvania, as a state high school, national prep and NCAA champion for the University of Pennsylvania."

Penn wrestling greats Dick DiBatista and Brandon Slay
The Philadelphia-based school paid tribute to its legendary mat alum in a statement issued March 25. legendary alum.

"A member of the Inaugural Class inducted into the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996, DiBatista remains arguably the greatest wrestler in program history," according to its statement. "He ended his Penn career as a two-time NCAA champion -- only Matt Valenti shares that honor among Quaker grapplers -- and likely it was only World War II that kept DiBatista from becoming a three-time NCAA champion. He also won three Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) championship in his weight class, from 1941-43. (The NCAA canceled its Championships from 1943-45.)

"Dick DiBatista was one of the greatest wrestlers of all time," said Penn's current head wrestling coach and fellow Penn Athletics Hall of Famer Roger Reina. "Dick was a champion, an educator, a veteran, a loyal Penn alumnus, and a revered community member. He was a stalwart of Coach Austin Bishop's incredible, undefeated Penn teams. Dick will be missed by our community, and his legacy will always be honored at Penn."

Funeral services for DiBatista have already taken place.

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