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Blue Devil Gymnasium Renamed in Honor of Lou Giani

Blue Devil coaching legend Lou Giani was feted last Friday night at the Huntington Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Reach for the Stars annual gala at Oheka Castle in Cold Spring Hills.  The wrestling great knew he would be honored with HFEE’s Spirit Award, but didn’t have any idea school district officials had a special surprise for him.

“You may recall that last December, the community approved a bond issue to fund certain improvements to our infrastructure at Huntington High School,” School Board President Robert T. Lee told the more than 300 guests.  “Among those improvements is a refurbishment of the gymnasium by replacement of the existing wooden bleachers.  My colleagues and I agree that upon completion of those improvements, we name the newly renovated facility the Louis D Giani Gymnasium.”      

The announcement caught the coach off guard and he choked up in emotion.  “Growing up here, attending school and later teaching here, competing and coaching here, it never entered my mind that one day the school district would rename the high school gym for me,” Mr. Giani said.  “To say it’s an honor is an understatement.  It’s a moment of joy, but I share it with every single wrestler I ever coached.  I am only as good as they allowed me to be.  As a coach, you never do it alone.”

Mr. Giani, who has meant so much to Huntington athletics and the school district through the years, graduated from high school here in 1953, after winning the school’s first Suffolk wrestling title under his coach and mentor Frank Kubisa.

He went on to win national titles in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, won a gold medal in the Pan Am Games and competed in the 1960 Olympics.  After a distinguished nineteen-year career with the Grumman Aerospace Corporation during which Mr. Giani rose to the position of Group Leader on the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) project for NASA, he took up teaching and coaching and has left a trail of greatness.

Mr. Giani’s coaching records are breathtaking and include five state and nine Section XI team championships, 418 dual meet victories, a record 23 individual state champions, 59 Suffolk champs and 174 league champs.  He has coached 34 state tournament finalists and 49 all-state wrestlers and has 19 undefeated seasons to his credit. 

“It is indeed an honor to be a part of the events of this evening in which we honor one of the true greats in our school district's history,” Mr. Lee said.  “Lou Giani is a legend, in the world of wrestling, in the world of coaching and in the history of our school district. Beginning in 1970, he has built a wrestling program in our school district that is legendary, not only in Suffolk County and New York State, but across the country.” 

Mr. Giani’s national impact was honored in 2003 when he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma, one of only a handful of high school coaches to be so honored. 

On three separate occasions Mr. Giani has been chosen as the national high school wrestling coach of the year.  But, just as important as winning has been to him, so have the academic accomplishments of his wrestlers.  The list of success stories from Mr. Giani’s wrestlers is long and touches nearly every occupation and academic major.

“It is fitting that we now recognize what so many have long known,” Mr. Lee added.  “While the Foundation has taken a huge step toward honoring and recognizing this wonderful man, after talking to my colleagues on the Board of Education, we consider it appropriate that the District also recognize his historic contributions to our athletic program.  Consequently, I have asked our Superintendent to include on the agenda of our Board of Education meeting this Monday, March 6th, a resolution of the Board to so honor our very own legend, Coach Giani.” 

Since HFEE’s founding, the group has donated about half-a-million dollars to the district to fund innovative classroom activities and programs that cannot be supported by the regular school budget.  “HFEE’s continued support of our students and programs has made our district a much better place than it would otherwise have been,” Huntington Superintendent John J. Finello said.

While the night raised funds for HFEE’s important work and featured both silent and live auctions, it was also an evening where all walks of the district saluted one of the greats in American high school sports.  The gala has often been referred to as the town’s social event of the season.

“The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill may have its Dean Dome and Duke University may have its Coach K Court, but the Blue Devils of Huntington High School will hereafter wrestle and play basketball and volleyball in our very own Giani Gymnasium,” Mr. Lee said.