The award is given annually to an individual of Italian heritage who has achieved professional and personal success in their career and made a difference in their community.
Moccia’s Italian heritage can be traced to his great grandparents, Giuseppe and Chiarina Moccia. Guiseppe was a tailor who emigrated to the United States from Palma Campania, Italy in 1897 with his wife, Chiarina Scafuro, who was originally from Fonta Noel, Italy.
Though he made his own suits, Giuseppe never worked as a tailor in the United States, instead, he made his living in real estate, buying apartment buildings in Brooklyn, NY often times with no money down.
Mario’s grandfather, Carmine Moccia, was born in Brooklyn in 1899. He was a sheet metal worker and married Angelina Laurino. They had three children, including Mario’s father, Joseph, an anesthesiologist, who is now retired in Surprise, Arizona with his wife and Mario’s mother, Elena.
Under his leadership as director of athletics at SIU the future has never been brighter for Saluki Athletics. Not only does the department have a host of successful teams, it has recently moved into the state-of-the art facilities those programs deserve.
Shortly after Moccia arrived on campus in 2006, he charted the course for Saluki Way – an ambitious $83 million facilities campaign featuring a new football stadium, renovated arena and 50,000-square foot team facility.
The department broke ground on the project in the spring of 2009 and the new facilities opened during the Fall of 2010.
When Moccia (pronounced Mo-chuh) took the helm at SIU, the annual scholarship fund totaled slightly more than $600,000. Four years later, it has more than doubled to $1.3 million.
Ticket sales have made dramatic gains during Moccia’s tenure, with sharp increases in revenue in both football and men’s basketball. The athletics department also reached lucrative agreements with both Learfield Sports and Under Armour.
The financial success has allowed Moccia to hire and retain marquee coaches such as Chris Lowery and Dale Lennon.
Under Moccia’s watch, the men’s basketball program advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2007 and finished No. 11 in the nation — the highest ranking in school history.
The football program set a conference record for consecutive weeks in the Top 25 and reached the Final Four of the FCS Playoffs in 2007.
The Salukis have been successful across the board, winning conference championships in women’s golf, women’s basketball, men’s cross country, men’s tennis, softball, women’s track and women’s swimming and diving in the last four years. Southern Illinois ranked No. 95 in the 2010 Learfield Director’s Cup standings, the highest finish among Missouri Valley Conference schools.
Equally impressive are the marks Saluki student-athletes have posted in the classroom. The cumulative GPA of all student-athletes stands at 3.03.
Prior to SIU, Moccia was the senior associate AD for external operations at the University of Missouri, where he oversaw the largest fund-raising effort in the history of Mizzou Athletics with the Champions For Life campaign. During his tenure (1998-2006), Missouri posted record football season ticket sales and an increase of more than $3 million in annual giving during a five-year period.
Moccia holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from New Mexico State University (1989), where he was the Most Valuable Player of the Aggie baseball team in 1988 and 1989. As a senior, he was a pre-season All-American. Moccia was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and played professionally for two years before beginning his administrative career.
Moccia earned a master’s degree in sports administration from the University of New Mexico (1993). In 1998, he was named to the New Mexico State University Athletics Hall of Fame. He is a member of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) and serves on several national committees.
Mario and his wife, Heidi, a former All-American women’s soccer player at UMass – reside in Murphysboro with their daughter, Addie.
He will be honored at the HerrinFesta Honoree Banquet on Tuesday, May 24 at The Herrin Civic Center and ride in The Grand HerrinFesta Parade on Saturday, May 26.