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Poem by Renee Springhorne

Prayers go out for wrestler
By MATTHEW J. DOWLING, Star Ledger Staff
The Star Ledger - Watchung Hills community devastated after Somerset champ is injured.

A Watchung Hills Regional High School wrestler remained in critical condition yesterday with a severe neck injury after he fell awkwardly while trying to throw an opponent during a match on Saturday in Newton.

Carl Riccio, a junior at the school and a three-time Somerset County champion in his weight class, required surgery Saturday night at Morristown Memorial Hospital to repair dislocated vertebrae.

"He does not have feeling or movement in his arms or legs," said Valerie Justice, who's son Derek is captain of the wrestling team. "The vertebrae were out of placement and there was bruising of the spinal cord and swelling."

Justice, who heads the wrestling team's booster club, visited the Riccio family yesterday morning at the hospital, where many of the team members gathered for updates on Riccio's condition. By yesterday afternoon, the team's Web site had been updated with a message asking for people to pray for Riccio's recovery.

"There is hope that we'll start to see progress, but it takes time," said Justice, who is also a registered nurse.

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.

"I believe he tried a throw," said Bill Sawyer, who was at the game as a spectator. "He ended up coming down on his head and shoulder. He didn't move at all. He was just laying there."

Riccio's father, Peter, was on the mat within seconds of realizing his son was in trouble. Two of Riccio's younger brothers were also at the match. Shane Riccio is a freshman member of the team and Tyler Riccio wrestles in the eighth grade.

"His dad went down and put his head on the mat and started crying," Sawyer said. "That's when we knew it was bad."

An ambulance crew arrived within minutes and quickly stabilized Riccio's neck. He was alert and talking with rescue workers, but he couldn't move his arms or legs, Sawyer said.

Riccio's mother, Patricia and his sister were in Las Vegas on Saturday to watch his older brother Peter play in a Villanova University baseball game. All three of his family members took a flight back to New Jersey Saturday night after hearing of his accident.

Gary Reece, superintendent of Watchung Hills, said school counselors intended to meet with the members of the wresting team this morning. In addition, counselors would be made available for all students throughout the day, he said.

"Right now, we're all praying," Reece said. "The situation has been stabilized, but they won't know for a couple of days at the earliest."

Reece said school officials have been in contact with the family to provide support and pass along any updates on Riccio's condition to his friends and fellow students.

"Our coach has not been out of the hospital since this has occurred," Reece said.

Riccio had amassed 23-0 record and is the reigning Somerset County champ in the 189-pound weight class. He had previously been the county champ in the 125-pound class as a freshman and the 160-pound class as a sophomore. Riccio also plays shortstop on Watchung Hills baseball team.

Justice said the Riccio was alert and talking yesterday to his family at Morristown Memorial. Because of his condition, he was barred from having visitors outside his immediately family.

"They're a very passionate, strong, close-knit family," Justice said. "All resources of energy have to be focused on healing right now. Carl is a son to everyone on the team. He's a wonderful young man."

© 2006 Carl Riccio Special Needs Trust