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State wrestling champ Vinny Scaletta

Vinny celebrates with his younger brother Nick.

Vinny celebrates with his younger brother Nick.

Imagine the Chicago Cubs winning 41 out of 43 to start the season, or the Bears losing only two games over three-and-a-half seasons. Now, you have an idea of the monumental accomplishment of Ridgewood High School senior Vinny Scaletta, a hard working wrestler with the heart and grit of a pro.

Wrestling in the 220 lb. weight class, Scaletta captured a state title in February in remarkable fashion, beating one of the few opponents to best him this year. Austin Parks of Crystal Lake Central beat him just a week before Scaletta returned the favor when it truly counted.

But when Scaletta discusses his championship, he doesn’t start by talking about himself. “This year, our school just won the sectionals for basketball, and our football team made the playoffs for the first time in 13 years,” he says, putting his accomplishment in the larger context of athletic pride at Ridgewood, which is based in Norridge.

Scaletta, who has Sicilian roots on both sides of his family, tells a familiar story among successful Italian Americans: A tireless work ethic and family values paved the way for his accomplishments.

It begins with how his parents consistently showed up for him when he needed it. “They’ve always supported me, always come to the games, always been there for me whether I won or lost.”

He adds that they gave him the tools he needed to succeed. “My parents always stressed grades, and making sacrifices — giving things up when you need to get them done,” Scaletta recalls. “You can still have fun, but you’ve got to work hard.”

And work hard he did. Given that he only discovered competitive wrestling as a freshman, Scaletta had a lot of catching up to do relative to much more experienced competitors. But beyond grasping technique and building his body, he endeavored over the past four years to cultivate the heart of a champion.

But no winner makes it alone, and with no prompting whatsoever, Scaletta runs off a roll call of names that include head coach Jared McCabe, assistant coach Leo Alongi, and varsity assistant Lou Mazzano.

McCabe, he says, spotted his potential when he had just entered Ridgewood. “He told me that I would get good at it and to keep working. He’s taught me so much and he gives me good technique. He would always push me, but he would also come over to console me when I was lost.”

He also cites Dan Gable, the legendary Iowa State wrestler who went 117-1, as a key influence. “Gable said that after wrestling, every thing else in life is easy,” Scaletta says. “It’s so true: It’s a grueling sport with practices, conditioning. But you can never give up.”

And indeed, giving up isn’t anywhere on Scaletta’s punch list, though growing into his role is at the top. Already, colleges are approaching him with offers and Scaletta is drawing strength from his fellow students, friends and neighbors. “The support in the community has been awesome,” he says “I’m very grateful for that.”

About Lou Carlozo

A former longtime staff writer, editor and columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Lou Carlozo is a personal finance contributor to Reuters and the proud writer of Fra Noi's Lou&A column, which spotlights important Italian Americans. He is currently studying for his master's degree at National-Louis University, where he teaches journalism and writing on the graduate school level. He also writes for the Tribune Content Agency and a variety of other freelance outlets including DealNews, Money Under 30 and Yesware. He lives in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago with his wife of more than 17 years, Amy (a hospice chaplain), and two children.

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