“At his visitation, someone said that just about every Ohio high school champ from the 1970s into the 1990s was influenced by Bob Dieli,” according to Adam DiSabato, a four-time letterwinner – and three-time NCAA All-American — for Ohio State from 1989-1993 and nephew of Dieli.
Dieli’s day job was as Recreation Director for the City of Columbus allowed him to pursue his wrestling passion and share his knowledge of the sport with future champions in central Ohio. He established the Ohio Wrestling Club in 1971 at the Sunshine Center in Columbus.
“Nobody was a stranger,” his son Bob, Jr., told InterMat. “Helping kids was a passion.”
Dieli shared his passion for wrestling beyond the Ohio Wrestling Club with his cable TV show “Matside with Bob Dieli” which provided coverage of high school, college and international-style wrestling events in the Columbus area, along with interviews with athletes, coaches and others in the sport.
Dieli’s imprint on the popular show extended for 25 years, with his last appearance on “Matside” being the 2013 Ohio high school state finals, according to his 65-year-old son Bob, Jr., who was the first state champ for Columbus Bishop Ready High School.
“When wrestling was not on TV, he put his show on public access,” according to Adam DiSabato. “I’d like to think that a reason wrestling is so important in Ohio is because of that show.”
In addition, Bob Dieli, Sr., wrote and published two books, each focused on his two major passions: wrestling, with “Genial Gene Mills’ Mean Will to Power” in the early 1980s… and philosophy, with his “Mencken, Nietzsche, and the Chosen” published in 2007.
Dieli’s influence extended well beyond central Ohio in other ways.
“He traveled all over the world, helping to coach U.S. wrestlers at World championships and Olympics, DiSabato told InterMat.
“After the ’72 Olympics, the Soviet team was touring the U.S.,” said Bob, Jr. “He set up a U.S. vs. USSR dual at St. John Arena at Ohio State. I videoed the event. A fun production.”
This man of incredible accomplishments and influence on wrestling had a rugged start in life.
Robert Joseph Dieli, Sr. was born in Cleveland in 1925. “His mother had serious health issues, so he was raised in an orphanage in his early years,” according to his son Bob, Jr. “He suffered spinal meningitis at an early age. He completely lost his hearing in his left ear and was barely able to hear out of his right ear.”
Despite those challenges, Dieli launched his lifelong love affair with wrestling at John Adams High School in Cleveland. After graduation, Dieli then headed south to Ohio State, where he was a teammate of 1946 NCAA heavyweight champ George Bollas, one of the all-time heftiest big men in college wrestling who later went on to a long career in pro wrestling.
Wrestling for Buckeye head coach Bernard Mooney, Dieli wrestled unseeded at the 1947 NCAA championships in the 121-pound bracket, winning his first match over Rutgers’ Guerino Petti before falling to No. 4 seed Harold Mott of Northern Iowa. Dieli was a three-time letterwinner, earning that distinction in 1945-47.
For all the ways he contributed to the sport, Bob Dieli, Sr., earned numerous honors, including being named to Wrestling USA magazine’s Master of Wrestling Award in 1987, the Ohio Wrestling Coaches Association’s Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1987, and, in 2012, became a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla. when he received the Lifetime Service to Wrestling award from the Ohio Chapter of the Hall of Fame, which said, “Bob’s devotion to the sport was in all three phases; Freestyle, Greco-Roman and Folkstyle often coaching some of the greatest wrestlers the state produced. Bob’s influence on Central Ohio wrestling was a who’s who of champions on the state, national and international levels.”
Beyond his accomplishments as a wrestler, coach and TV announcer, Bob Dieli made quite an impression on others.
“He was a character. Like a little pitbull. Quick-witted, yet humble. Made everyone feel important,” DiSabato said.
Services for Bob Dieli, Sr. took place Friday, June 28 in Columbus.