Jumper Leggio, the ‘father’ of Long Island youth wrestling, dies at 89


Long Island’s wrestling community is mourning the loss today of one of its legends, National Wrestling Hall of Fame grappler and coach Gombatista “Jumper” Leggio.

Often called the “father” – and later the “grandfather” – of youth wrestling on Long Island, Leggio died on Friday, Jan. 5. He was 89.

Leggio helped teach his beloved sport to thousands of Long Island kids, sharing the expertise that he began honing as a dominant wrestler at Bay Shore High School. Countless youth wrestling programs have spawned from the very first one that he helped charter with Bill Knapp in 1963 in the wrestling room at Fifth Avenue Elementary School in Bay Shore.

Young wrestlers from across Long Island trained with Leggio in Bay Shore.

“His impact on Long Island wrestling is truly remarkable,” former South Country schools athletic director Robert McIntyre remarked.

“His legacy will last long beyond our time here,” he added in his Facebook comment.

Leggio was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and named Bay Shore Alumni Man of the Year in 1997. Two years later came his induction into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame.

In addition to his youth coaching endeavors in Bay Shore, Leggio in 1968 started the wrestling program at Holy Family High School, which later became St. Anthony’s High School. His team won the New York State Catholic Team Championship Title in 1968.

Leggio also coached national teams, including the U.S. squad against Poland in 1973 and versus Bulgaria in 1976, according to bio information shared by the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame. He coached a U.S. high school team in 1980 against Korea.

Bay Shore coaching legend

Born and raised in Bay Shore, Leggio was an assistant wrestling coach for a quarter-century, alongside his friend Dick Rosner, leading to the program to back-to-back Suffolk County championships in 1981 and 1982.

Notably, during four seasons as the coach of the wrestling program’s freshman team, Leggio’s squad lost just one match. He also helped launch the girls wrestling program in Bay Shore, which he discusses in the GLI video story below.

“Long Island and The Leggio Family lost an absolute LEGEND today,” Leggio’s great-niece Sharon Leggio Falchuck said a Facebook post. “He inspired thousands and built so many young people up to greatness.

“I will remember him for the twinkle in his eye and his giant, infectious Leggio smile,” she continued. “I just loved being around his light.”

The seventh of 11 children in his family, Leggio started wrestling in seventh grade in 1946. In high school, he was an undefeated Eastern Long Island champion and runner-up at the Long Island Championships.

Following his graduation form high school, Leggio continued to wrestle while serving in the U.S. Navy, earning four inter-service championships. Later, after his honorable discharge from the service, Leggio represented U.S. wrestling in matches against various countries, including Canada and Japan.

It was after an injury force the end to his wrestling career when Leggio began directing his attention in the sport toward coaching.

A full-length documentary examining Leggio’s life and his influence on wrestling was released in 2022. “Cradled: The Jumper Leggio Story” features dozens of interviews with people who were influenced by Leggio’s leadership.

“Such an incredible, caring, talented and giving coach and someone I have been fortunate to call friend for 40 years,” Ray Nelson posted in the Long Island Wrestling Fans Facebook group. “RIP Jump 🙏”

According to obituary information released by the Long Island Wrestling Association on Facebook, Leggio survived by his three sons Joe, Guy, and Jumper; his partner Marianne; many grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, and siblings, Carmen, Ralph, and Joe. He was predeceased by his wife Joanne and their daughter Grace.

Services for “Jumper” Leggio

Visitation services for Leggio will be held Tuesday, Jan. 9, from 4-8 p.m. at Fredrick J. Chapey & Sons Funeral Home, Inc., 200 East Main St. in East Islip. A funeral Mass will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 10, at 10:15 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, 9 Clinton Ave. in Bay Shore.

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