Lou Giani’s love affair with wrestling began as a junior at Robert L. Simpson High School as Huntington High School was then known. On the horsehair filled mats in that dusty old room in the building’s basement, the sport took hold in the teenager’s life, propelling him to the 1960 Olympics and a National Wrestling Hall of Fame coaching career.
Mr. Giani passed away this past Tuesday afternoon at 86. His interest in wrestling and Huntington High School, his alma mater, never waned nor did his belief in the value of sports and the benefits of working hard and striving to attain a worthwhile goal. The coach’s own work ethic was second to none.
Born in Manhattan to strict Italian immigrant parents, Mr. Giani attended Catholic school where sports and physical education programs did not exist. Moving to Huntington as a 14 year old ninth grader didn’t immediately advance his future career, but he quickly learned that sports were fun. Still, his parents saw no value in athletics because of their life experience. There were no athletes in the family tree and the threat of injury terrified them.
After two years of begging and cajoling, Mr. Giani finally convinced his parents that athletics were an intricate part of education. After they signed the consent forms he played football, wrestled and ran track in his junior year. The following year he won the 141 lb. Suffolk wrestling championship before graduating in June 1953.
Following graduation, Mr. Giani went to work for the Grumman Aircraft Company and competed for the New York Athletic Club, developing into a world class athlete. He placed in the top four at the 1956 US Olympic qualifying tournament. A Pan Am Games gold medal followed along with national YMCA championships.
Mr. Giani represented the United States on the 1960 Olympic team in freestyle wrestling and was 2-1 before a serious mastoid infection ended his dreams for a medal. He continued wrestling for several more years before turning his attention to coaching, first at Eastern Military Academy and then at Huntington High School, where he developed a nationally ranked program.
Once he decided to transition to a career as a teacher and coach, he obtained a bachelor’s degree at C.W. Post College and a master’s degree at Adelphi University.
Married to Rosemarie Fusaro in 1954, Mr. Giani and his wife sent three children through Huntington UFSD, including Lou Jr., who was the Blue Devils’ first state wrestling champion, Joe, who was the school’s first NCAA wrestling champion and who later served as Huntington’s director of athletics and assistant superintendent for personnel and Rosemarie, who has kept the wrestling team's scorebook and helped direct tournaments for decades. The legendary coach’s grandchildren, Maria Canino and Louis R. Giani are currently physical education teachers in the district.
Mr. Giani’s teaching career in Huntington followed two decades at Grumman, where he rose to group leader and worked on the lunar escape module (LEM) project that allowed man to travel from the Apollo spaceship to the moon and back to the capsule for the trip back to Earth.
“My journey in this great sport has been rewarding in many ways,” Mr. Giani told a National Wrestling Hall of Fame induction ceremony crowd of 255 in June 2003. “The lifelong friendships that have developed along the way; the camaraderie generated by wrestlers and their families; seeing a young wrestler learn how to handle adversity and become confident in himself; the excitement of the head-to-head competition and the face of a youngster after a big win,” were cited by the coach as his biggest rewards.
Desire, Discipline, Determination – these three words summarize the philosophy that carried Mr. Giani to a lifetime of achievement as both a wrestler and coach.
“It’s always a big compliment when a former wrestler becomes a coach, working with great kids who find our sport as challenging as I did,” Mr. Giani said at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame induction. “Having the opportunity to coach my children [sons Lou, Jr. and Joe] and grandchildren has been rewarding. I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity of competing and then sharing that experience with the young wrestlers on our team.”
In 2003, Huntington School Board President Robert T. Lee announced the district was renaming the refurbished high school gym after Mr. Giani.
“Growing up here, attending school and later teaching here, competing and coaching here, it never entered my mind that one day the school district would rename the high school gym for me,” said Mr. Giani at the time. “To say it’s an honor is an understatement. It’s a moment of joy, but I share it with every single wrestler I ever coached. I am only as good as they allowed me to be. As a coach, you never do it alone.”
Mr. Giani was a master at manipulating his wrestling line-up to exploit the weaknesses of his opponents. He spent hours after each practice analyzing scores and past matches to determine the match-ups that would give the Blue Devils the best opportunity for victory.
The coach’s system of drilling was revolutionary at the time and helped reinforce key offensive and defensive moves from every position that the Blue Devil wrestlers would employ out of habit without thinking. Every practice included a set of rotating “reaction drills” that reduced wrestling to almost automatic movements and led to decades of individual and team championships. Twice Mr. Giani’s teams rode winning streaks of more than 100 dual meets.
Mr. Giani’s coaching accomplishments include:
- A lifetime coaching mark in 40 seasons of 436-36-1.
- A league dual meet coaching mark of 231-15
- A record of 23 state champs and 49 all-state wrestlers.
- 28 undefeated league seasons and 20 undefeated seasons overall.
- Nine Suffolk County team championships.
- A Suffolk record 117 invitational tournament team championships.
- A record 61 individual Suffolk County champions.
- Nine of his teams won New York State championships. (Six state tournament – five public, one private - and three first place state poll rankings.)
- 63 state tournament individual qualifiers.
- Member, National Wrestling Hall of Fame
- Member, New York State Public High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame
- Member, New York State Wrestling Hall of Fame.
- Member, Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame
- On three separate occasions Giani was chosen as the National High School Wrestling Coach of the Year.
Mr. Giani’s contributions to the sport, include:
- He developed youth wrestling programs for two large Long Island towns with a population of more than half a million.
- He volunteered thousands of hours to local clubs and teams, providing free clinics to coaches and athletes in order to promote, develop and expand wrestling opportunities to those just starting out in the sport.
- He organized high school age cultural exchange programs with the Soviet Union and Poland.
- He coached New York’s wrestlers in the Junior National tournament.
- For many years he organized the Senior and Junior Metropolitan Championships at the time the Senior Mets was one of the leading open freestyle tournaments in the country.
- He provided dozens of economically disadvantaged youngsters with an opportunity to wrestle, buying them the equipment they need and giving them money for food, clothing, tournament entry fees, transportation, etc. He has found employment for them in order to help their families.
- He was a father figure to many, steering them toward college and giving them encouragement and support through high school and well into their adult years.
While Mr. Giani’s background as a coach and contributor are impressive, so are his accomplishments as a wrestler, which include:
- Winning the gold medal at 136.5 lbs. in the 1959 Pan American Games.
- Representing the United States in the 1960 Olympics in freestyle at 136.5 lbs. He went 2-1, with wins over wrestlers from Italy and Iraq and a loss to an Iranian at which time he was withdrawn from the Games due to a serious mastoid infection.
- He won the Senior Metropolitan Championships ten times in five different weight classes. He was named the outstanding wrestler four times.
- He won All-American honors in both freestyle and Greco-Roman at the AAU nationals, including the fastest fall award in 1963.
- He won consecutive titles at the YMCA national in 1958 and 1959, including the outstanding wrestler award in 1959.
- He won ten New York Athletic Club titles and more than twenty other tournament titles across the country. He also captured three Eastern AAU titles.