2004-11-12 05:11:50 UTC
By Amy Rabideau Silvers
Robert J. Foti got way more than 15 minutes of fame when he took a
stand by having a young wrestler sit down.
The incident happened in 1984.
Foti, then wrestling coach at Vincent High School, forfeited a match
rather than have one of his wrestlers grapple with a female wrestler
from Custer High School.
"My husband thought this wasn't appropriate for boys to wrestle
girls," said Susan Foti, his wife. "He made the decision for the good
of the sport and the good of the kids. He made the decision to
forfeit, and they lost that entire match."
That was just the beginning of the attention.
Foti's decision made headlines. He never wavered.
"We got letters from all over the world," his wife said.
Foti died Sunday of heart disease, while in hospice care at his
Thiensville home. He was 71.
Born in Milwaukee, Foti was the son of a father from Sicily, who
married a first-generation Sicilian-American woman here. He did some
wrestling himself, first at Riverside High School. He next served with
the Marines during the Korean War.
He returned to wrestling and his own education at the University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee. After early stints at other schools, Foti began
teaching social studies at then-new Marshall High School in 1965. He
later taught and coached at Vincent High until retirement in 1989. He
was active with the Milwaukee Secondary Coaches Association, including
"He was very well liked by his students, especially his wrestlers,"
Susan Foti said. "He was a strong advocate for kids. The kids came
first. His students' needs came above his need to win as a coach."
Certainly, that was true with the 1984 forfeiture.
At the time, Milwaukee Sentinel columnist Dale Hofmann was among those
who weighed in on the issue.
"I don't know Bob Foti, but I think I like him," Hofmann wrote. "He's
that sexist, scofflaw wrestling coach at Vincent High School who lost
a meet last week rather than put one of this kids between a rock and a
hard place. . . . Like Foti, I'm more concerned about what's right
than I am about what's legal. It's not always the same thing."
Hofmann closed with the hope that his own kids would "run into a lot
of Bob-Foti-type coaches along the way."
Foti - and his wife, too, in this case - also made news in 1975 during
the Milwaukee teachers' strike. A front-page headline read: "Love on
the Line - the Picket Line."
The couple married on a Saturday that January, then showed up for
picket duty at their respective schools. He was then at Marshall; she
was at 9th Street Elementary School.
"We've been getting up with the birds, but not the love birds," Foti
then quipped regarding their early-morning picket times.
The two, introduced through family and friends, first dated in October
"Our first date was a UWM football game," she said, laughing at the
memory. "I sat in the rain with him and got soaking wet. It was the
best time I ever had."
They were engaged that November and, of course, soon married while on
"He was one of those old-fashioned guys," Susan Foti said. "His faith,
his family, his Sicilian heritage, and the kids he taught. Those were
the things that were important to him. He was a calm, even, steady
kind of guy, with a lot of patience. And he was a lot of fun."
Other survivors include brother Joseph Foti. Another brother, Santo,
died last month.
Visitation will be held from 9 to 10:45 a.m. today at St. Cecilia
Catholic Church, 128 W. Buntrock Ave., Thiensville. The funeral
service will follow at 11 a.m.