Athletic magic happened at Lehigh University during the dedication of the 18,000 square foot Caruso Wrestling Complex in Grace Hall on September 27. Legendary wrestling greats from Lehigh’s history, donors, and guests were welcomed by President Alice P. Gast and were given tours of the new complex by proud grapplers on the 2013-14 team. The evening was the culmination of the hard work of many who were determined to place Lehigh’s wrestling program as second to none in the country.
The campaign to raise funds to create Lehigh’s world-class wrestling facility began in 2011. Guided by the leadership of wrestling icon Michael Caruso ’67, the flood of support to continue the tradition of the stellar program poured in. Contributions totaling $4.1 million helped build the complex that includes a Hall of Champions, large practice room, training room, weight room, state-of-the-art real-time video playback equipment, locker room, study areas, and offices for Lehigh sports information and volleyball.
Caruso, whose name is synonymous with greatness in the wrestling world, was the man of the hour who thanked all present for their commitment and support. Caruso is Lehigh’s only three-time NCAA champion in wrestling history. Among alumni benefactors and program supporters who attended the dedication were Ron Ulrich ’67, Joe Perella ’64, John Harmon ’59 ’83P, Larry White ’64, and Jack Vresics ’81. Others in attendance were Caruso’s teammates Billy Stuart ’66 and John Illengwarth ’65.
“The Caruso Wrestling Complex provides our coaches and our student-athletes with a daily home where training and development in all areas that matter can occur–physical, technical, tactical, academic, mental, and personal growth,” said Joe Sterrett ’76 ’78G ’03P ’05P ’07P ’09P, Murray H. Goodman Dean of Athletics. “It is an exceptional facility functionally, aesthetically, and it enhances Lehigh’s longstanding commitment to a national caliber wrestling program without compromising our value of education and personal development.”
One of the highlights of the tour was the Amy and Joe Perella ’64 Locker Room that included individual donor plaques above each locker. Mitch Minotti ’15 was thrilled to meet Travis Doto ’00, and his wife Lauren, who sponsored the locker he considers “home” while he wrestles at Lehigh. Doto was an All-American wrestler while at Lehigh.
Caruso, founder and chairman, Caruso Benefits Group, Inc., is recognized nationally for his athletic success while a Lehigh undergraduate. He has stayed close to his alma mater and regularly returns to meet with wrestlers, coaches, and athletic leadership. Chair of the Tower Society and member of the Asa Packer Society, Lehigh’s top leadership giving societies, Caruso supports student scholarships, general support for wrestling, and most recently, the Caruso Wrestling Complex.
Pat Santoro, Lawrence E. White ’64 Head Wrestling Coach, who worked closely with Caruso during the campaign, said, “The Caruso Wrestling complex is one of the finest facilities in the country and is the perfect blend of the old and the new. Our state of the art technology allows us to move forward on building this team while continuing to uphold our strong traditions. The future of Lehigh Wrestling has arrived.”
It was definitely a special night as Lehigh’s Who’s Who of the wrestling world gathered to celebrate this milestone that would cinch Lehigh as a forever “serious player” in the sport. Robert Hamlin ’13 said he was looking for a school that was serious about wrestling and had found it at Lehigh.
“When you walk in the doors of the Caruso Complex and see everything state-of-the-art, you know Lehigh takes wrestling seriously,” said Hamlin. “This is the place that really appreciates what we do.”
More than 120 people attended the dedication and dinner that included a ribbon cutting by President Gast, Caruso, Sterrett, and Santoro. Guests enjoyed the evening of united camaraderie, but what was particularly special was the state of awe that the current wrestlers were in. One student was overheard as saying, “Was that Mr. Ulrich? I just shook his hand. Wow.”
Photos: Caruso Complex Dedication