Anthony Mario Piccioni touched the lives of many students during his 30-year career as wrestling coach at West Mifflin Area High School.
In 1991, he was named coach of the year after guiding his team to a Section 3 championship.
“He was a unique motivator. There wasn’t another person like him,” said Tony Salopek, who wrestled under Mr. Piccioni during that 1991 season and later succeeded him as head wrestling coach. “He wasn’t a ‘my way or the highway’ coach. He coached to each kid’s strong points.”
Mr. Piccioni, of Pleasant Hills, died Friday after a year-long battle with lung cancer. He was 69.
He wrestled at Canon-McMillan High School before earning a full scholarship to wrestle at Ohio State University, where he studied industrial arts and earned wrestling honors as most valuable freshman, co-captain and All-American. After graduation and stints teaching in Michigan, he settled into teaching and coaching positions at West Mifflin Area, becoming actively involved with the teachers union. During the late 1960s, he was captain of Cecil Township Volunteer Fire Company No. 1.
Mr. Piccioni was remembered as a persistent optimist by his friends and family. His wife of 30 years, Maryann Piccioni, said he was born with clubbed feet and had to endure many surgeries, wearing casts on his legs until third grade. He was held back a year, purportedly because his teacher felt bad making him traverse the stairs to his new classes.
“I used to tell him that he was an unlikely success story,” said Mrs. Piccioni, adding that he was an “eternal optimist and a positive person.”
Although wrestling “got him where he was and continued to drive him,” his son, Monti Piccioni, said, “family was his foremost passion in life,” a passion that was apparent in his approach to coaching.
“He took the time to get to know kids individually and personally and was involved in more aspects of their lives than just wrestling,” Mr. Salopek said. “Ask anyone who he coached, and they would tell you that Tony was a great man first, and a good coach second.”
“He touched so many people,” Mrs. Piccioni said. “He didn't just coach kids, he went beyond coaching, teaching them life lessons and forming relationships that lasted through the years all the way until the end.”
After retiring, Mr. Piccioni continued to follow wrestling while also golfing with friends. He was able to make one last trip to the beach shortly before he died at home, surrounded by family and far from the hospital, where he had spent so much time as a child.
In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by his other children Lee, Alexandra and Anthony; siblings JoAnn Piccioni, Joseph Piccioni, Mary Eleanor Broglie, Mike Piccioni, Lucy Lash, Angela Schlumpf and Theresa Semple; and four grandchildren.
Visitation will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. today and from 2 to 4 and 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Jefferson Memorial Funeral Home, 301 Curry Hollow Road, Pleasant Hills. A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Thursday in St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Pleasant Hills.
Albert Anderson: aanderson @post-gazette.com or 412-263-1454.