Virtually everyone at Keystone College remembers Larry Fornicola as the Giants’ great Hall of Fame wrestling coach. To members of his team, however, Larry was so much more than that.
In addition to being one of the best wrestling coaches in the nation, Larry was a mentor, a friend and a counselor to so many young people, not only during their time at Keystone but for the rest of their lives. Keystone will honor the life and memory of the late Larry M. Fornicola Sr. (1933-1993) at the college’s Dr. Michael Mould Gala on Sunday, April 30 at Constantino’s Catering and Events, 1385 Lackawanna Trail, Clarks Summit.
“Larry was simply the greatest person I’ve ever known,” says 1981 Keystone graduate Bob Ziadie.
Bob has great insight into Larry’s tremendous character. In addition to being a member of Keystone’s wrestling team from 1979-1981, Bob served as Larry’s assistant coach from 1986-1990 and then as Keystone’s head wrestling coach from 1990-1991 after Larry’s retirement.
“He was a great coach, friend, mentor, role model, everything you could possibly imagine,” Bob said. “He had the ability to teach us various techniques and mold us into great competitors. Then, when I became an assistant coach, he had faith in me. He confided in me and let me know that I was a valuable part of his program. I learned so much from him in so many ways.”
Larry is well known for helping to create a wrestling dynasty at what was then known as Keystone Junior College. He served as wrestling coach at Keystone for 25 years from 1965-1990, compiling an impressive record of 216-151-5 during his tenure. Larry was named the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Wrestling Coach of the Year three times and his teams produced three national champions, 31 district champions and over 60 All-Region selections.
He was inducted into the NJCAA National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1980. Larry is also a Lifetime Service to Wrestling Honoree, which recognizes his years of dedication to the development and leadership in youth through the sport of wrestling. On May 2, 1992 he was presented with the distinguished Service to Keystone Award and, on the same day, Keystone dedicated the Larry Fornicola Wellness Center in his honor.
Larry was also outstanding collegiate wrestler at Penn State University. He was the 1955 NCAA National Champion at 137 pounds and was named an All-American. He also won the Wilkes Open Tournament title four consecutive years, becoming one of only four men to have won four titles. As a result of his remarkable accomplishments at Penn State, Larry was selected for the first All-Penn State wrestling team.
Larry’s wrestling success was rewarded in 1968 when he was appointed head coach for Junior College Olympic tryouts, and, in 1978, when he was named head coach of the U.S. Greco Roman team for the Pan Am Games.
More than his talents and coaching ability, Larry and his wife, Bernie Fornicola, are remembered for the warmth and caring for everyone associated with the wrestling program and the entire Keystone College community.
“To us, Keystone was more than a college, it was family,” said Bernie who is still stays involved as a volunteer with the Keystone wrestling team and participates in other college activities as well. “We stayed in touch with our wrestlers long after they left Keystone and moved on to other great things in their lives. I have such wonderful memories of Larry and all that he did for those young men and all that they did for us.”
That sentiment is echoed by everyone who knew him.
“Larry was beloved by Keystone wrestlers and still is today,” Bob said. “Larry was our second father and Bernie was our second mother. We were so lucky to have been a part of their lives and have them as a part of ours.”
Larry and Bernie are the parents of five adults children, Larry Jr., Matthew, Dominic, Lisa, and Erica.
This article originally appeared in the March edition of Happenings Magazine