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Poem by Renee Springhorne

Wrestling: Support, fundraisers for injured wrestler going strong
For the Star-Ledger

The outpouring of support for Carl Riccio of Watchung Hills continues to flow unabated, much like the 17-year old's spirit.

The junior wrestler suffered a severe spinal cord injury during a match at Newton on Feb. 22 and is currently undergoing physical rehabilitation at Kessler Institute in West Orange.

The latest gem -- a benefit and silent auction -- among the many concerted fundraising efforts to stem the financial tide faced by the Riccio family will be held on May 27 at Mayfair Farms in West Orange. The event will run from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

"We're hoping to draw between 800 and 900 people," Denise Cappuccio said. The Basking Ridge resident has volunteered to share her experience in coordinating fundraising efforts for the family.

"The idea for fundraising originated with Carl's older brother, Peter," Cappuccio said. Peter Riccio is a student and baseball player at Villanova.

"The thrust of our effort is to raise money in a respectful and dignified manner," Cappuccio said. "I met with Peter on March 7 and it seems everyone is offering their time and skill."

Proceeds from the $100 per-ticket event on May 27 will benefit The Carl Riccio Special Needs Trust formed to assist in his long term medical care, rehabilitation and recovery.

Carl Riccio, 26-0 this wrestling season and the Somerset County Tournament champion at 189 pounds, has made encouraging progress after initially experiencing paralysis in all of his limbs, according to his dad, Peter Riccio Sr.

Riccio, who had been ranked seventh in the state by The Star-Ledger at 189 pounds at the time of his injury, fell awkwardly when trying to attempt a throw against a wrestler from St. Peter's Prep. He injured the C4 and C5 vertebrae, damaging nerves along his spine. He has since regained some movement in his biceps and has slight movement in his right forearm, according to his dad.

Remarkably, it has been Carl Riccio who has buoyed the spirits of his family, friends and even strangers.

"Carl is an unbelievable person," Peter Riccio Sr. said. Carl is the third of five children for Peter Sr. and his wife, Tricia.

"His spirits are high and he's anxious to get better. He lifts me up. He's so upbeat. He's a kid who's never had a fight in his life," Peter Riccio Sr. said. "He's a nice kid."

Carl Riccio is also a fine baseball player. The outfielder batted .429 last year when he made Second Team All-Somerset County.

The owners of Mayfair Farms, Marty and Peter Horn of Short Hills, have graciously kept the per-plate fee for the May 27 benefit at a minimum to maximize the per-ticket return for the Riccio fund.

Cappuccio says at least 100 creatively packaged items have been donated for the silent auction, including a round of golf for three with a member of the Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, Broadway show tickets, a round-trip excursion in a private plane, sports memorabilia and several weekend getaways.

Among the fund's initial successes was the sale of more than 600 tee-shirts at the NJSIAA wrestling tournament on March 14-16 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The eager wrestling community gobbled up the entire supply of "Carl The Ultimate Warrior Riccio" shirts that weekend.

The family continues to receive donations from all over the country, even drawing anonymous contributions from as little at $10 to as much as $5,000 to The Carl Riccio Special Needs Trust at P.O. Box 4422, Warren, N.J. 07059.

"We've received hundreds and hundreds of letters," Peter Sr. said. "Nine of 10 of those are from people we don't even know. It really is wonderful."

Perhaps the most charming fundraiser of all is courtesy of a group of local middle school children selling rubber bands for $1. Embossed on the rubber bands is the fund's rallying cry, "Carl The Ultimate Warrior Riccio."

"We bought 10,000 of them and the middle school kids are selling them like crazy," Cappuccio said.

In a show of spiritual support for Riccio, Watchung Hills sophomore Fred Vitollo, a member of the football team, has decided to go out for the wrestling squad for the first time, next fall.

Tickets for the May 27 benefit and silent auction at Mayfair Farms can be purchased by calling 212-696-6692; via credit card at the website,; or in-person at Sports Minded Unlimited, 165 Washington Valley Road and Warren Health & Racquet Club, 149 Mount Bethel Road, both in Warren.

© 2006 Carl Riccio Special Needs Trust