Jim Restauri is an Altoona native, a former State College resident, a former walk-on for Penn State football and a past national boxing champion.
Now, the fourth generation Italian American is set to be inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, Pittsburgh Chapter, on Aug. 4 at the LeMont Restaurant in Pittsburgh.
“It means a lot being that I’m from a family with Italian heritage from Altoona,” said Restauri, whose family has roots in Montorio Al Vomano, Italy. “I know that if my dad and my mom were still alive, they’d appreciate this a lot. Being inducted into the hall of fame is one of the things that I’ve wanted since I retired from boxing.”
Restauri, 66, was inspired to box by world champion boxer Rocky Marciano during a meeting in 1969. It led him to a boxing career that would net him three consecutive NCBA National Collegiate Boxing championships.
Among those that have been inducted into the National Italian/American Sports Hall of Fame are Marciano, former New York Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio, former Penn State and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris, Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach Vince Lombardi, former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino.
Chairman of the National Italian/American Sports Hall of Fame Tony Ferraro oversaw Pittsburgh’s first induction class with Harris in 1977. Harris played at Penn State from 1969-1971 and knew of Restauri’s accomplishments as a fellow alumnus. It was an easy choice from there.
“When we induct somebody, we all ask for recommendations,” Ferraro said. “Franco Harris is a Penn State alum who recommended Jimmy. And he’s been on the voting docket and we have a selection committee of 3,000 people this summer. Inductees … go through the group and we determine who’s willing to participate and Jim’s name comes up.”
The making of a champion
In 1971, Restauri was a self-described introvert living in Altoona as a 16-year old. His father urged him to join the Altoona Boys Club to break out of his shell.
“When I did do that, I think it was the right thing to do because it did bring me out and I ended up becoming outspoken,” Restauri recalled. “It allowed me to go on to Penn State. It kind of taught me a lesson of toughness and confidence in my athletic ability.”
Restauri’s first national boxing championship came when he won the Easterns as an All-American in 1977, earning NBC Sports’ Outstanding Boxer Award. He followed up with his second national championship in 1978 by unanimous decision in a bout in Reno, Nevada, on HBO. Then, as a senior, Restauri blew through the competition by sweeping the Easterns and Nationals, en route to a technical knockout to win the first and only back-to-back championships in NCBA National Collegiate Boxing history.
He initially went to Penn State Altoona prior to transferring to Penn State’s University Park campus in 1976 — where he walked on to the football team and earned a scholarship. He lettered with the Nittany Lions as a linebacker and was a part of the 1976 Gator Bowl, 1977 Fiesta Bowl and 1979 Sugar Bowl teams.
After graduating from Penn State, Restauri stayed in State College and started State College Area High School’s boxing program. While nearly having a chance to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics, Restauri’s opportunity fell through when the United States pulled out of the Moscow Olympics due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He went pro from 1980-1983, earning the nickname “Bad Cat” and “Nittany Lion” with a 9-2 record and three knockouts.
Giving back to his community
Not only has Jim Restauri made his friends and family proud, but his wife has always been supportive of the things he’s done to help those in need.
“He was a president of the Penn State boxing alumni for a good number of years and we would constantly go to events where he would give speeches to (the students) and pointers,” Betty Anne Restauri said. “He would give him career advice and mostly tried to express it to them to stay on the right path to get their education. There were many different events that he would sponsor. He won an award from the alumni association for having a picnic at the cleric of Bland’s Park, where he had a number of kids that were fighting cancer.”
Jim Restauri retired as a police officer in 2005, serving in the Margate Police Department in Florida, where he lives now. He also served as president of the Penn State Boxing AIG for over 12 years. He was inducted into the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame for his achievements in 2018.
To this day, he continues a workout regimen of walking and running multiple times a day. He continues to hit the punching bag and uses smaller weights.
“I feel younger than I really am,” he said.