In 1960, Joseph DeMeo ’66 began a wrestling career that would span over four decades and touch hundreds of lives, and most recently earned him an induction into the Cornell Athletic Hall of Fame.
As a student, DeMeo wrestled through 1965, earning numerous junior and varsity titles including the freshman Eastern title held at West Point, as well as multiple Olympic trial tournaments. The year after he graduated, in 1966, DeMeo was named national freestyle champion.
His team was just as good.
“[We were] very big, very powerful,” DeMeo said. “It was one of the best in the East, and in fact, the country at that time.”
And there was a very strong sense of camaraderie between the athletes.
“I had a lot of great teammates, and a lot of people who I’m still friends with to this day,” DeMeo said.
DeMeo wrestled in a golden age at Cornell.
“We had the most fans at our matches, drawing between 4,000 and 6,000,” DeMeo said. He summed up the Cornell experience using a quote he remembers from an article that ran in The Sun: “When the snow flies, it doesn’t take a freshman long to realize the big sport on campus is wrestling, not basketball.”
After earning his undergraduate degree at Cornell, DeMeo stayed and earned his MBA. A career in business seemed like his logical next step. But wrestling was not done with DeMeo.
After a short stint as assistant coach at Michigan State, DeMeo still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do.
“The head coach at Stanford was a friend of mine, and I applied for the job after he left, not thinking I would get it. It was a stroke of luck,” DeMeo said.
Stanford would be just the beginning of a monumental coaching career for DeMeo. After coaching at Stanford, DeMeo returned to New York to become the head coach at Albany, a position he would hold for 19 years. DeMeo currently coaches one of the best club teams in the country, with members routinely making it to the finals of the national junior championships.
But eventually DeMeo was called on to coach at an even higher level. He is a three-time Olympic team coach, and has coached the national team on four occasions. His wrestlers have achieved numerous honors, including national, world and two Olympic titles.
Three years ago, he was named National Wrestling Coach of the Year by the U.S. Olympic committee.
This meandering career path has given DeMeo the opportunity to travel all over the world representing the United States, as well as working with the “greatest of the great athletes,” he said. “That’s a huge challenge because they already know so much already. It takes years to build up their respect until they think maybe you can help them win. [Coaching the Olympic champions] was really a thrill.”
Cornell is a tradition in the DeMeo family as son J Seph graduated in June. DeMeo’s other son, Michael, attended Albany. Both boys wrestled, with Michael winning the New York State championship.
DeMoe returns to Ithaca boasting an impressive record of wrestling accolades and awards. Yet of all the honors DeMeo has been given over his long and successful career, he says the induction into the Cornell Hall of Fame has special significance.
“Every time I come back, of course, it brings back a lot of memories — of hard snow falls, wonderful rain and great people,” DeMeo said. “I’m so honored. I’m so excited. This is really the most important.”