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Not just a two-sport standout in high school and college, Ron Pelligra was an All-American in athletics … and in life!
His excellence as a wrestler and football player were recognized by Christian Brothers Academy and St. Lawrence University. He is in their Halls of Fame for both sports.
Decades after his days as a student-athlete, he remained a revered figure at CBA and on the SLU campus in Canton. Ron died of a heart attack in 2013 at age 58.
At CBA, he was two-time All-City in both sports (offense and defense in football). On the mat, his career record was 80-8. In 1972, he was the first at CBA to win Sectionals. And he competed in track.
Collegiately, he was a two-time Division III All-American as a defensive tackle. He led the Saints to their first pigskin playoff berth in many years. Ron was also an All-American In wrestling at St. Lawrence. His overall record was 93-7-1 (38-2 as a senior), and he set SLU’s record for pins.
Ron and Debbie Pelligra had two children, J.J. and Stephanie. Ron took up soccer and softball so he could help them, and both earned athletic scholarships — J.J. to Colgate, Stephanie to Notre Dame.
Ron was never one to speak of his athletic accomplishments, though they were many. But one stands out: In 1976, Pelligra became the first NCAA champion at St. Lawrence in any sport. The 5-11, 220-pounder beat MIT’s 6-7, 385-pound super-heavyweight to win the Division III title.
He later lost, 5-3, to two-time Division I champ (and 14-year NFLer) Bob Golic, who said, “One of the toughest guys I ever wrestled was Ron Pelligra.”
But Pelligra — called ‘Luca’ — really had a heart of gold. A product of Syracuse University Law School, he was a successful attorney here for 30 years who also did a great deal of pro bono legal work and was a generous (and anonymous) benefactor to CBA and SLU.
At St. Lawrence, where he was MVP in wrestling and football as a senior, he is still celebrated. The Hoot Owl Bar is a well-known establishment where Ron’s full-sized wrestling mural has been on display for 40 years.
After Ron’s passing in 2013, football teammates, friends and SLU athletic staff installed ‘Luca’s Rock’ in the stadium entrance. On the way to the field, every player touches the rock.
Many people were touched by Ron ‘Luca’ Pelligra, who now becomes a member of the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame, Class of 2018.