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Watchung Hills wrestler facing paralysis
WARREN TWP.(Echoes-Sentinel) - A Watchung Hills Regional High School wrestler is fighting to regain use of his limbs after an accident during a match Saturday left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.

The student, Carl Riccio, a junior from Warren Township, was wrestling Konrad Dudziak of St. Peter's Prep of Jersey City in a triangular meet at Newton High School in Sussex County. Eric Bollette, Newton's wrestling coach, said Monday, Feb. 24 that the accident occurred during the third period of the match, which he called "the marquee match of the day" since both were ranked among the state's best at 189 pounds. Riccio, trailing the bout at the time, was putting his opponent in a headlock when both wrestlers fell forward. "He (Riccio) came down and his head hit the mat," Bollette said. He added it initially didn't appear all that serious, but after a few seconds it became apparent "he was in some discomfort," according to the coach. Trainers and first aid officials rushed to the mat to help stabilize Riccio, Bollette said. The rest of the meet was called off as Riccio was taken by ambulance to Newton Memorial Hospital, which Bollette said is about a mile from the high school. From there, a Medivac took him by helicopter to Morristown Memorial Hospital, where doctors initially feared he had torn his spinal cord. While it did suffer a bruise, it was not severed. Doctors operated on Riccio Saturday evening to realign his neck vertebrae, then said there was a slim chance Riccio could regain his limbs.

'Has Stabilized'
"Carl has stabilized. It will take several days to a week to get a prognosis," Watchung Hills Superintendent Gary Reece said Monday, Feb. 24. Reece said the school's crisis support team was mobilized to aid students during this uncertain period. Its members, who include several counselors, met with the wrestling team as well as the baseball team, for which Riccio played last year. There was not a large-group meeting of students, contrary to rumor, Reece said. However, counselors were placed throughout the school to provide emotional assistance if needed. "Each student has a range of emotion," the superintendent said, adding most of them were not accustomed to these situations due to their youth.

Among State's Best
Riccio, son of Peter and Patricia Riccio of Casale Drive, is considered one of the state's top wrestlers at 189 pounds. He won his third consecutive Somerset County championship in December, helping Watchung Hills to its first-ever county team title. Last year, he was a district champion. His younger brother, Shane, is a freshman wrestler at Watchung Hills. Riccio had won his previous match that afternoon, pinning Newton's Joe Vandermark in 34 seconds to keep him unbeaten for the season. The meet was scheduled during the season, Bollette said, as Newton had room for extra matches and notified other schools in similar situations. Watchung Hills signed on, he said, followed by St. Peter's Prep. The Riccio injury was the third tragedy to affect Watchung Hills in less than a week. On Tuesday, Feb. 18, sophomore Jason Oh died after battling leukemia for nearly 18 months. On Thursday, Feb. 20, Adrian A. Cummings, a 1999 graduate attending Fairleigh Dickinson University's Madison campus, died in an automobile accident near the college. "A teacher walked up and hugged me today and told me, 'We could use some good news,'" Reece said Monday, Feb. 24.

© 2006 Carl Riccio Special Needs Trust