March 19, 2002
Two members of the Notre Dame athletics family – former football player and highly-decorated U.S. Army soldier Mario “Motts” Tonelli and fencing coaching legend Mike DeCicco – are set to join an elite group of inductees into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, with the gala black-tie induction ceremony to be held on Friday night, March 22, 2002, at the Chicago Hilton and Towers.
Tonelli and DeCicco are part of an 11-member “double-induction” class that includes five who originally were set to be inducted last fall (that ceremony was postponed due to the Sept. 11 attacks). The 11 inductees also include Emmy Award-winning sportscaster Dick Vitale, auto racing legend Michael Andretti, international tennis coach Nick Bolletteri and nine-time all-American Dr. Donna Lopiano (see www.niashf.org/events/events.html for complete list of inductees ).
A limited number of tickets remain for the induction banquet, with international talk show host Larry king and Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda serving as co-master of ceremonies. For ticket information, please call (847) 952-9766.
DeCicco becomes Notre Dame’s first non-football player inducted into the NIASHF, with six previous members of the Irish football program among the Hall’s 165 all-time inductees: Mark Bavaro, Angelo Bertelli, Nick Buoniconti, Frank Carideo, Daryl Lamonica, Joe Montana and John Panelli.
Tonelli and DeCicco will be joining an esteemed group that includes:
* Noteworthy baseball players, coaches, administrators and broadcasters such as: Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Harry Caray, Jerry Colangelo, Dom and Joe DiMaggio, Joe Garagiola, Tommy Lasorda, Tony LaRussa, Billy Martin, Phil Rizzuto and Joe Torrre.
* Football legends such as: Alan Ameche, John Capelletti, Franco Harris, Ted Hendricks, Vince Lombardi, Ed Marinaro, Joe Paterno, Brian Piccolo and Paul Tagliabue.
* Basketball coaches Lou Carneseca, Rollie Massamino and Rick Pitino and boxers Jake LaMotta, Rocky Marciano, Ray Mancini, with other noteworthy inductees including jockey Eddie Arcaro, fitness guru Charles Atlas, billiards ace Willie Mosconi, racecar driver Mario Andretti, golfer Ken Venturi, soccer player Giorgia Chinagla, swimmer Matt Biondi, gymnast Mary Lou Retton, weightlifter Lou Ferrigno, ice skater Brian Boitano and hockey Olympian Mike Eruzione.
Here are the biographies on DeCicco and Tonelli, as posted on the NIASHF website:
Michael DeCicco – Born Nov. 16, 1927 in Newark, N.J. Michael DeCicco is the man who built the Notre Dame fencing team into the perennial power that it is today and has been for nearly 40 years. He retired from the school after the 1995 season with 41 years of service to Notre Dame. In his four decades at Notre Dame, he served in various avenues, always giving of himself unconditionally for his love of Notre Dame.
DeCicco arrived at Notre Dame from Newark, N.J., in 1945 as a freshman. After fencing resumed competition in 1947, after a three-year hiatus because of the war, DeCicco starred for the Irish as he compiled a 63-20 career record. He fenced foil, sabre and epee during his career, the last Notre Dame fencer to compete in all three weapons. His 29-1 record in foil in his junior year earned him a spot in the NCAA championships. His career 45-4 (.918) foil record is second on Notre Dame’s all-time career foil winning percentage list.
“When I first came to Notre Dame, I had no idea that they even had a fencing team until I set foot on this campus,” DeCicco says. “Thanks to Walter Langford, who kept fencing at Notre Dame alive after the war.”
Following his graduation in 1949, DeCicco returned to New Jersey to work on his master’s degree and his doctorate. In 1954, he received an offer to return to Notre Dame to finish his doctorate and decided to accept it. In 1962, after serving as assistant to Langford, DeCicco became the fourth head coach in the 30-year history of the fencing program. DeCicco’s teams won almost 95 percent of their matches and he finished with a staggering 680-45 (.938) career coaching record.
The list of accomplishments by Notre Dame fencing teams under the brilliant guidance of DeCicco is almost endless: five national championship teams, eight NCAA individual champs, a 122-match winning streak spanning six seasons (including four undefeated seasons), 12 undefeated and nine one-loss campaigns in his 34 seasons, almost 100 All-Americans and a four-time national coach-of-the-year selection. In addition to his collegiate accomplishments, DeCicco left his mark on the national and international level as he coached and represented the United States in numerous Olympic and World Championship events.
“Fencing gave me a unique opportunity to work with 600 or 700 athletes, forming close relationships with them virtually every afternoon at practice. This has always been very special to me,” says DeCicco. Among his more proud accomplishments is the development of the women’s team as one of Notre Dame’s first two varsity sports for women in 1977. Along with the success of the men’s team, DeCicco was able to form a solid foundation for the women’s team that he coached through 1985, when Yves Auriol took over and built on this foundation that DeCicco had laid.
DeCicco headed the Office of the Academic Advising for Athletes until 1990 when he handed the reins to Dr. Kate Halischak, who now runs it under the new name of Academic Services for Student-Athletes. Originally, the program advised only a small group of football players, but DeCicco rapidly expanded the program to include all student-athletes. He initiated the tutorial assistance program, class monitoring program and degree progress reports that are still the foundation of the office. “All of our accomplishments never would have been possible if I were coaching at some other school,” says DeCicco. “Notre Dame made that possible. For that I will be eternally grateful for the lady on the dome.”
Mario “Motts” Tonelli – Born March 28, 1916 in Lamont, Ill. He was the toast of Notre Dame and a star for the Chicago Cardinals, then came the horrors of the Bataan Death March, and then a heroic comeback. Mario “Motts” Tonelli is a recipient of the Army Bronze Star as a survivor of the 1942 Bataan Death March in the Philippines. Basketball, track, baseball, football, he excelled in them all. He set city records in several sports at Our Lady of Lourdes grammar school. Later he claimed varsity letters in nearly every sport at DePaul High School.
His Italian-immigrant parents, Celi and Lavania, didn’t quite understand the big deal about sports in this country. His father viewed it as merely “fun time” but he saw athletics as means of recovery and survival. Athletics proved to prosperous as colleges came calling after high school. The two courting schools were USC and Notre Dame. California offered glamorous surroundings and good weather but if the Yankees were baseball’s team, Notre Dame was college football’s pinstripes. Knute Rockne coached there. The stadium rocked with avid fans, the golden dome presided over the place like God himself.
Tonelli was on Notre Dame’s 1937-39 teams that went 20-5-2. He caught nine passes for the Chicago Cardinals in 1940 before entering the Army as an artillery sergeant. After being captured by the Japanese, Tonelli was forced to march 70 miles under inhumane conditions. The march was responsible for the deaths of about 10,000. His 42 months as a prisoner of war included 60 days in darkness aboard a “hell ship” to Japan. There, he contracted diseases while working in the rice paddies and factories. Tonelli went from 212 pounds to 92 at liberation, but he came back to play in one pro game. One of his greatest moments was a 76-yard run against Southern Cal in 1938. Ironically, a Japanese student, who saw that game and later became a Japanese officer, looked for Motts at the start of the Death March and returned the Notre Dame class ring to him that was taken off his finger. Motts never saw the man again. He kept the ring in a small silver case but, because they were always being searched, he had to bury it in the dirt and keep moving it. He still has the ring today.
One man Tonelli holds dear to him is Charles Bidwill, the owner of the Chicago Cardinals. Bidwill came to Motts in the hospital after the war and said, “Motts, before you left the Cardinals, you still had a three-year contract. We expect you to honor it.” By renewing the contract, he provided Motts with a wonderful opportunity because, under the rules of the NFL, you had to play both before and after the war to get credit for your pension. They both knew it was nearly impossible for Motts to play again but he was determined to do his best. On one Sunday in October of 1945, after a few practices with his coach, Motts earned his pension. Mario “Motts” Tonelli has become a hero on both the battle field and football field.