Gary Ventimiglia or "Venti" as he was better known by his friends grew up in Levittown, and wrestled for Coach Petersen at Island Trees High School.
He had an outstanding high school career that culminated in a second place finish at the NY State Championships to Brentwoods Carl Adams in 1968. Venti then went on to Jr. College and finished second in the Junior College Nationals to Wade Shalles. He then went to Lock Haven University and became a Pennsylvania State College Champion.
As I have mentioned in the past, wrestling is often a family tradition with the craft being handed down in families through brothers. Gary Venti was no exception, he owed much to his older brother Paul, the first "Venti." Paul Ventimiglia wrestled for Coach Petersen back in 1962, and was one of the "founding fathers" of the Island Trees Dynasty.
One of the fondest memories I have of Venti, was when he would come around the block to my house to visit with my brothers, Frank and Carl Carrozza. Carl was an exceptional student whom Gary affectionately nicknamed "The Professor." They would huddle together to plan wrestling strategies and share ideas and schemes. They respected each others' differences in temperament, Carl being calm and methodical and Gary passionate and explosive, and in their interests, because when it came to wrestling and being teammates that took precedence over all else.
Gary would greet Carl on the front lawn by shooting a double or single leg takedown, grappling him to the ground.. that was "hello!"
Frank though older was close enough to the Vent to be his best man in his wedding. This was the way it was (and is) Island Trees wrestlers are all family.
These bonds made my job of getting wrestling alumni together for the previous alumni matches easy. I knew they would come.. and they did! Teammates spanning decades came from far and wide to reunite in our gym.
After college Venti returned to Island Trees to coach along side Ted Petersen. Together they produced many County Champs, and NYS Champs, in addition to two County Championship teams! Gary would lead the team out of the locker room in a slow serious walk, hands folded in front of him, his gaze downward, as the wrestlers took their seats. Other times to change it up, he would have them enter in a quick sprint, forever shaking things up and keeping wrestling both exciting and entertaining to the packed crowds. His drive and intensity as a coach was unparalleled, and his passion for the sport contagious.
By contrast, Ted Petersen was content to stay in the background, letting his prodigy shine! Coach Petersen was truly "the wind beneath his wings"
When the news came of Gary's death at age 42, the effects were felt throughout the entire wrestling and football community. From Island Trees to East Meadow, and all over the Island. Teammates, friends, fellow coaches, and wrestlers young and old assembled with heavy hearts and fond memories to say good-bye. The funeral home was a sea of wrestling jackets and football players, filling the room to capacity. The Island Trees band came to play,"When the Saints Go Marching In" as Gary had requested they do, after having visited New Orleans and loving it. Grown men sobbed openly and consoled each other as they had lost a dear friend and mentor.
As Official Paul McArthy said in his speech at the Ted Petersen Tournament, you cannot think of "The Coach" without thinking of "Venti." The two were inseparable and more like father and son, than coach and wrestler. Together they continued the Island Trees Wrestling Dynasty and through their love kept the unique "family" bonds between teammates alive!