Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Referee Chuck Graziano has been officiating for the last 50 years

NOW: Natalie’s Everyday Heroes: Referee Chuck Graziano has been officiating for the last 50 years

WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- Chuck Graziano has been a fixture in Wisconsin wrestling for the last 50 years.

He's refereed matches for little kids and Olympians.

Along the way, Graziano has influenced generations of wrestlers and coaches.

Once he blows his whistle, Graziano has one focus.

"You have to have the mentality that I have two kids," he said of his method.

His eyes are trained on their every move.

"It's my job, A: To make sure they don't get hurt. And B: Be the fairest I can be," he said.

The objective in wrestling is straightforward.

"The purpose of wrestling is to pin your opponent. That's the object," Graziano explained.

As a referee, Graziano has watched countless kids do just that over the last five decades.

"It's a great sport, one-on-one. You're not beating anyone up," he said with a laugh. "And you're competing."

He says not only is it a great sport, but one of the toughest around.

"You have to watch your diet. You have to have a certain discipline. You have to work out every day, the hardest you can," he said of the athletes.

Strength, quickness and technique are all important.

And not just for the wrestlers. During a match, you'll see Graziano running around the mat, going down to his knee and hip for a better view.

"A lot of people in this sport -- coaches, officials, they've had their knees replaced," he said. "They've had their hips replaced. It's the nature of the beast."

A high school and college wrestler himself, Graziano got his start as a ref, not with a win, but with a loss.

"I was walking off the mat, and I asked the referee, how do you get into this game?" he remembered.

The rest is history. He's officiated state and national tournaments, inspiring the next generation of officials, including Dan Sivilotti.

"He's Chuck! He's always good," Sivilotti said. "Once upon a time, I was in high school, and Chuck was an official for me. When I was first learning how to official, I learned from Chuck."

Before this match between Oak Creek, Kenosha Bradford and Racine Horlick started, Graziano made the rounds, talking to coaches and athletes.

"Oh, everybody knows who Chuck is, he's got that demeanor," Sivilotti said.

Graziano's son, Tony, is used to it.

"Like, does your dad ref?" Tony Graziano said that's a question he gets a lot.

Tony and his brother, Vince, grew up wrestling, and of course watching their dad ref.

Tony says he wanted to get out there before he could walk.

"All the meets we would go to as kids, and watching these good wrestlers, so no, there was never a doubt in my mind," Tony said.

Tony was five years old when he got his first chance.

"I told him, go out there and get your butt kicked. And he did. And he's an all-American," Graziano said with pride. 

Tony and his brother, both successful wrestlers, but it's the life lessons he's taken away.

"I can think of a lot of things he taught me about wrestling. Ah, biggest one is to go out there and do your best," he said.

For now, Graziano's family watches him from the stands, but years have taken a toll on his joints.

"Some Sundays after a long tournament, it's tough to walk," he admits.

What he'd like to see now is more younger refs, like Sivilotti, getting involved.

"We're looking for people just about every Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday," he said.

 The sport is in desperate need of new officials.

"In August and September, we were down 42%," Graziano said of the number of refs. He said it's a number that's not sustainable.

But you can bet Graziano doesn't plan on stopping any time soon. 

"He loves the sport, and what he didn't say is that he loves the kids," Tony said.

Graziano will be officiating this weekend at the WIAA Girls State Wrestling Tournament in Lacrosse.

It's the first girls' wrestling state meet in the state of Wisconsin.

For more information on becoming an official, visit the WIAA's website

And if you'd like to nominate an Everyday Hero, send Natalie a message at NShepherd@cbs58.com.

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