Brick by brick, block by block, Guy Leggio, a bricklayer by trade, labored over the construction of the East Islip wrestling room. The vision of building the East Islip program from the foundation up was so real for him.
For almost 17 months, Leggio and a band of generous volunteers endured long hours and sacrificed their time to build a state of the art wrestling facility. The room measured 85 feet by 60 feet, and was complete with two full-size mats and 24 practice circles.
The room opened in time for the 2000-01 winter sports season and was valued at $750,000. It was the beginning of something special at East Islip. The Redmen moved from a closet of a practice area in an auxiliary gym to a pristine, spacious sprawl where they've honed 71 league champions, 11 Suffolk titlewinners and 10 team league crowns over the past 16 years.
"I wanted to create a special space for our guys that we could call home and develop our own identity within the East Islip athletic program," Leggio said. "I wanted a place we could call home and make it feel like a family environment. And we are reaping the benefits of that closeness in a house unto itself."
The camaraderie, the training and the leadership have provided the East Islip community with a popular venue that consistently gets kids involved in wrestling and produces.
Leggio celebrated another milestone this week when he earned his 200th career dual meet victory. The man, who grew up watching his father, National Hall of Fame Bay Shore coach Jumper Leggio, give his life to the sport, has emulated his dad and scripted his own legacy.
Guy Leggio has given so much of himself to the East Islip wrestling program for the past 23 years. And his contributions are not only at the high school level. He began the East Islip KID wrestling program for elementary school students in 1997 and continues to coach grades 1 through 8, two nights a week.
"My dad started the first ever KID program in the eastern United States with Bill Knapp in 1963," Guy Leggio said. "And my dad was not only my dad, but my coach, my mentor and my idol. I was always hanging on him at all of those wrestling practices and tournaments when I was a kid. And I knew it was a key to success for any program."
Leggio reached the 200-win milestone with little fanfare. But his accomplishments and contributions to the sport don't go unnoticed here. His career coaching record is 200-96-5, a winning percentage of .673, which includes a Suffolk team title and top team ranking in 2006. He's also coached eight state place-winners and three state champions.
"Winning is great and that comes with hard work and discipline," Leggio said. "But getting kids off the street and on the mat is very important to me. Wrestling teaches so many life skills and it develops good people."
Leggio is all about community and giving back. The Navy veteran from 1981-85 has been a member of the Bay Shore Fire Department for 25 years. He is currently serving his second term on the Bay Shore Board of Education.
His wife, Maryann, wonders where he finds the time to take care of so many interests. But he credits her understanding and their love for his ability to follow his dreams.
So what inspired Leggio to build the wrestling facility.
"My dad always cared about the community and reached out to help others," Leggio said. "He was a positive impact on his community. The room was a labor of love."
There have been so many memorable moments for Leggio. Perhaps the most inspiring was when a double amputee walked into his room and asked if he could join the team.
"Who am I to doubt anyone's motivation or keep him from following his dreams," he said. "I was so inspired by his willingness to try -- that I said yes."
The wrestler, Rohan Murphy, despite having had both legs amputated below the thigh, was a county finalist in 2001. He went on to wrestle at Penn State and is now a professional motivational speaker.
"Everyone loves Guy Leggio," Murphy said. "Look what he does for people. He's the best. He believes in people."