NEWARK, NJ —In January of 2011, the first 'Gift of Life' Duals for high school wrestling was held at Nutley High School. The idea behind the event was to promote the need for organ donation, while also showing the always-intense wrestling fans how organ donation has come to save lives in their local communities.
Nutley native Michael DiPiano Sr., whose life was saved by organ donation in 1998, took the lead in promoting the wrestling matches. Mike's youngest son, Frank, was Nutley High's head wrestling coach, at the time. The theme of the day was 'Organ Donation is a Major Decision', with the emphasis on the importance of being a donor, while using a wrestling analogy about a major decision.
The event continued to gain momentum since 2011 and this year, the 10th renewal of the Gift of Life Duals will be held at St. Benedict's Prep, in Newark, starting at 9 a.m. That venue has a lot of meaning. Frank DiPiano is now the head wrestling coach at St. Benedict's Prep, while Frank's dad was a Hall of Fame wrestling coach there, and also that school's athletic director.
Michael DiPiano, Jr. has also been a proponent of the event since its inception. He was an assistant coach at Nutley, for the first Gift of Life Duals, then was named the head wrestling coach at Northern Valley-Demarest High for the 2011-2012 season, a position he held for four years. Demarest hosted the Gift of Life Duals twice, during DiPiano's tenure as head coach.
In 2015, Mike returned to Nutley as head coach. In addition, Mike and Frank both wrestled at St. Benedict's, with their dad as the head coach. All three DiPiano men are now enshrined in the St. Benedict's Prep Hall of Fame.
'I'm looking forward to a great day on Saturday, at the Gift of Life Duals," said Mike. "It's a very special day for my family, and when I say my family, I am not just talking about my Dad, I am talking about Steve Searle and Lou Montes. This cause is near and dear to our hearts, and hopefully we can wrestle to our ability and get a few wins."
Searle and Montes are wrestling dads. Steve was a standout athlete at Nutley High and his son, Billy, is now a tremendous football player and wrestler for the Raiders, in his junior year.
Montes' son, Anthony, was one of the best wrestlers in Nutley High history. Anthony graduated NHS in 2002 and is currently helping out the Raiders' coaching staff.
Both Steve Searle and Lou Montes are in good health today because of organ transplants. In fact, the first Gift of Life Duals, in 2011, resulted in Steve receiving a new kidney, from his cousin.
Steve has often said he wasn't aware of the meaning of organ donation prior to the first Gift of Life Duals.
"I didn't know a lot about it," Searle recalled. "(Nutley High athletic director) Joe Piro had wanted the team to do something for community involvement and that first tournament was held, in part, to help get me a kidney. It turned out my own cousin was a match, and I had the surgery in June of 2011. Obviously, it's been a big part of my life ever since."
Frank DiPiano had a great run as head coach at Nutley, then left for St. Benedict's, in an administrative capacity. This season, he has also taken on the job as head wrestling coach at his alma mater.
"We are excited to be hosting this years event, once again at St Benedict's," said Frank. "This place has been home to my family for over 30 years. It makes it so much more special having Nutley still involved, as it brings my two programs together to celebrate a great cause and spread awareness of something that is so important to my family.
"Nutley will always hold a special place in my heart, and I look forward to watching them compete. Having the 3 D's (Michael Sr., Michael Jr and Frank) under the same roof on the mats is always a special moment. This will certainly be the place to be on Saturday, to celebrate a great cause."
There will be a good slate of matches, which begins at 9 a.m. St. Benedict's will take on Millburn while Nutley faces Xavier of New York. At 10:30 a.m,, the next round of wrestling features St. Benedict's taking on Kearny and Nutley wrestling Long Branch High. At noon, Kearny faces Millburn and Xavier meets Long Branch.
After a break, Michael DiPiano Sr. gives his speech about organ donation, along with members of Team Liberty, of which DiPiano has long been associated with.
The final round of wrestling starts at 2:15 p.m., with Kearny vs. Long Branch, Nutley vs. Millburn and Xavier taking on St. Benedict's.
It's been an exciting year for the DiPiano family. Michael Sr. took part in the 2020 Rose Bowl parade, as part of the Donate Life float. This summer, the 2020 Donate Life Transplant Games will be held at the Meadowlands Sports Complex, in East Rutherford.