The National Wrestling Hall of Fame was saddened to learn that Richard DiBatista, a Distinguished Member inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1995, passed away on February 29, at the age of 99.
Private funeral services were held at St. Paul’s Cemetery in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.
“On behalf of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, I want to extend our condolences to the family and friends of a beloved man who graced the sport of wrestling for many decades,” said Lee Roy Smith, Executive Director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. “It’s hard to find the words that could even compare to what Dick DiBatista actually achieved in his lifetime as a student, wrestler, football player, teacher, wrestling coach and official, and Marine Veteran. He is one of the greatest upper-weight wrestlers in United States history and is considered a pillar in the great wrestling heritage in Pennsylvania, as a state high school, national prep and NCAA champion for the University of Pennsylvania.”
His string of victories ran the gamut of state high school, national prep school, regional AAU and National Collegiate championships. His string of defeats ran the gamut of … well … nothing at all. DiBatista never lost a wrestling match at any level of competition.
His nine-year career spanned 137 victories. He won NCAA titles in 1941 and 1942 and was an overwhelming favorite for a third until the 1943 national tournament was erased by World War II. The worldwide strife also eliminated his opportunity to compete in the Olympics in 1944. During the War, DiBatista served as 2nd Lieutenant in the Marines and was stationed in the South Pacific.
At Lower Merion High School, DiBatista won the first-ever Pennsylvania state tournament in 1938, then became a national prep school champ at F&M Academy. He wrestled 82 matches at the University of Pennsylvania, including dual meets, collegiate tournaments, freshman bouts and Freestyle events. He closed his career in 1944, wrestling for and coaching a Navy team in Boston.
DiBatista was known for total domination of his opponents, although his coach, the renowned W. Austin Bishop, admitted that “DiBi lacked a killer instinct and often let his opponents survive without pinning them.” His best weapon was an arm-drag takedown, which he used to perfection in perhaps his most important bout–the 1941 NCAA finals against a 29-year-old veteran AAU champion. He also mastered the sit-out escape, and no one ever held him down for more than 15 seconds.
He coached briefly at Swarthmore College and Lower Merion and 10 years at Drexel, but made a lasting mark as one of the sport’s finest referees. He called high school, eastern collegiate and NCAA competition for 30 years, and earned such high regard that, even after retirement, he often was called out of the stands to help the officials interpret some rule.
A member of the Inaugural Class inducted into the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996, DiBatista remains arguably the greatest wrestler in program history. An accomplished athlete, DiBatista also lettered three years in football at Penn, helping the team go 18-5-2 and finish 14th in the final Associated Press national poll of 1940 and 15th in 1941.
He was also a member of the Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame, the District One Hall of Fame and the Delaware County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. He was an inaugural inductee into the National Officials Hall of Fame in 1996 and in 2004 the Lower Merion School District established the Dick DiBatista Wrestling Facility.
Born in Palombaro, Italy in 1920, Dick and his family moved to Ardmore, Pa. when he was a young boy. Dick attended Lower Merion High School and Franklin & Marshall Academy before arriving at Penn, where he received a B.S. in Education in 1943 and an M.S. in Education in 1946.