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High school wrestler seriously injures neck during match


A high school wrestling champion seriously injured his neck when he fell awkwardly while trying to throw an opponent during a match this weekend.

Carl Riccio, a member of the Watchung Hills Regional High School and a three-time Somerset County champion in his weight class, remained in critical condition Monday at Morristown Memorial Hospital. He sustained a dislocated vertebrae during a match in Newton on Saturday and underwent surgery there later that night.

Valerie Justice, who heads the team's booster club, said she visited with Riccio's family on Sunday and was told that he does not have feeling or movement in his arms or legs. Officials said they would not know until later this week whether Riccio will regain the use of his limbs.

``The vertebrae were out of placement and there was bruising of the spinal cord and swelling,'' Justice told The Star-Ledger of Newark for Monday's editions. She said several team members gathered at the hospital for updates on Riccio's condition, and a message posted on the team's Web site that asked people to pray for Riccio's recovery.

``There is hope that we'll start to see progress, but it takes time,'' said Justice, a registered nurse whose son, Derek, is the team's captain.

Riccio, who lives in Warren Township, was in the middle of his second match of the day at the three-team regular season meet against Newton High School and St. Peter's High School from New Brunswick. He is ranked seventh in the state in the 189-pound weight class.

Witnesses said Riccio landed on his head and shoulder and then became motionless on the mat as his father, Peter, and two younger brothers rushed to his aid. An ambulance crew arrived within minutes and stabilized Riccio's neck, and he was alert and talking with the rescue workers.

Gary Reece, superintendent of the Watchung Hills district, said school counselors were to meet Monday morning with the members of the wresting team. He said counselors would be made available for all students throughout the day, he said.

Riccio had amassed 23-0 record and is the reigning county champion in the 189-pound weight class. He previously won titles in the 125-pound class as a freshman and the 160-pound class as a sophomore, and he also plays shortstop on the school's baseball team.

© 2006 Carl Riccio Special Needs Trust