Convention Race winner 2004 & 2005
when he was just a 10 year old boy, Ralph Leggio and his brothers, Carmine
and John, would cut lawns and shine shoes to get money to buy pigeons.
Carmine started it all, and the other boys followed. They would hang out
at Teddy Grill and Son’s Pet Shop, where they dealt in pigeons.
It was another 10 years before they got into the business of racing pigeons,
by joining the Islip Club in 1958, which is still a big operation on
Long Island. He was one of the “kids” in the club, along with
his friend Charlie Wind. Ralph has been with the Islip Club ever since.
He has been President of the Islip Homing Pigeon Club for the past 12
years, since the previous President, Norman Liguori, passed away.
He has also been active in other clubs as well, over the years, including
the Islip Terrace Racing Pigeon Club, where he is also President and considered
the backbone of the club along with Charlie Wind and John Neske, who has
been doing so much for all three clubs housed in the Islip Club House
for so long, he is almost a part of the structure of the building.
Being that Ralph is always willing to take on another responsibility and
always seems to be available for anything to do with the pigeon sport,
he holds the position of President of the Long Island Combine, as well.
And, on top of all that, he has been the home liberator for the Suffolk
Nassau Combine for the last 5 years, which anyone who has done the job
will admit is a hard job, especially when you are trying to please everyone
in a combine with over a hundred miles of depth.
Almost from the start, Ralph was a trustee in the Islip Club, meaning
he was always involved in making sure things ran right and participating
in the running of the club. When they decided to add on to the Islip Club
in order to allow other clubs to use this same building, Ralph did a lot
of the brickwork. This building now houses three clubs, Islip, Islip Terrace,
and Northern Long Island Clubs. He was a “stewart” when they
used to have the annual pigeon shows, where the cages would be piled up
three high and there were so many people, you could hardly move. These
Long Island pigeon shows lasted 2 days and people came from all over to
They had “big name pigeon flyers who came in for these, such as
Frank Grumpka and Frank Grabowski. Frank Grabowski owned the “Three
Thousand Dollar Bird”. This bird had won 11 straight Races. Ralph
remembers it well, “Can you imagine winning 11 straight races with
one bird?” he said. “Well this bird did it, won 11 straight
races and his number was 2854. How could I ever forget that number?”
Ralph has always supported the I.F. and especially the annual Convention.
He attends every year with his wife Norma. Norma, by the way, is a big
help with the pigeons. She stays in the background most of the time, but
she is really involved. She even drives the training truck at times.
Did I mention that Ralph drove the training truck? The training truck
that many of Long Island’s pigeon flyers depend on to get their
birds trained across the water? Long Island presents a little bit of a
challenge in training the birds. We obviously live on an Island and have
to cross one or more bridges to get our birds off the island for training
to the west. Not only do we have to cross the bridges, but they are all
toll bridges. Unless, of course you choose to take one of the tunnels,
and they also have tolls. In addition, you must go through or around the
New York City Metropolitan area.
Going through NYC, if you don’t hit traffic going west (because
you got up at 3:30 am and drove in the dark and then waited at the release
point for the sun to rise), then you will probably hit traffic on the
way back east. Because of this time consuming and expensive training requirement,
many of us who don’t happen to work in the city or New Jersey will
put the birds on a training truck and let someone else like RALPH deal
with the traffic! This is where he got the nickname “Uncle Ralphie”.
One of his patrons (to be unnamed here) frequently confides that he sent
the birds here or there with Uncle Ralphie for an education.
Back to Norma, though. She is a big part of the Leggio Loft Team. She
is always there for Ralph. But, when she first met him, she thought he
was crazy. This was partly due to Ralph being immediately head over heels
in love with this lovely lady. He was so smitten with her that he gave
her one of his highest compliments, he told her she had “absolutely
perfect eyesign”. She didn’t know what he was talking about
and was sure he was over-the-edge crazy.
Now, after all these years, she knows she was right all along, but, has
decided he is a good kind of crazy.
Norma contributes to Ralph’s pigeon hobby in other ways as well.
She bought him some pigeons in the 1960s and their blood is still breeding
him winners all these years later. He sent a bird to Vinny Locicero to
handle for the Joe Papa memorial Race in Boston. This bird was out of
the Veegate Huskens Norma had bought for him, crossed with stock from
Tito Gonzalez. Not only did the bird win the Papa Memorial Race, but,
also the South Section, the Club race, and took 2nd overall in the Boston
Concourse; all in one flight!
In 1994, Ralph was the Chairman of the Convention when it was held on
Long Island. He told me about the fantastic bus trip they had that year,
visiting the lofts of many great flyers, such as Japs Loft, Jimmy Acquiviva,
and Eddie Martin to name a few and then the lunch at the “sit down”
Deli of another Flyer, Joe Saviano in Commack, NY. The food at Joe Saviano’s
deli was fantastic and seemingly unlimited, with everyone allowed to go
through the line as often as they wanted. Joe Saviano was another good
flyer in his own right, owning at that time, the fastest pigeon on Long
Island, a bird who had attained 2500 ypm speed! The trip to his NY Deli
really topped off a great Convention for most, even those who lived here.
Last year (2004) was an especially good year for Ralph. His fellow flyers
in Islip Club started calling him the Derby King because of how well he
did in all the Futurity races and the Islip Derby Race series. He took
First and Second in the Fort Meyers Race in Florida won with birds he
sent to Richard Scott, to whom he sends birds every year for this race.
In the Islip Derbies, there were supposed to be 200, 250, 300, 400 and
500 mile races. Ralph took Average Speed for the Derby Series, and won
the two really tough races, which were the 400 and 500. Well, it was really
two 400 milers a week apart, as they had to bring the 500 back to the
400 because of weather. And, he won them both with the same pigeon!
Last year’s convention was the real topper, though. Ralph was at
Bobby Presto’s (Presto Loft) along with Tom Marvelli (Marvel Loft).
Both of them had birds in the race handled by Bobby. Bobby was telling
them how the birds would be coming out of the east, because they always
came around this big tree near his loft and made a hook before landing.
Ralph kept looking to the west and Bobby kept telling him, no, you’re
watching in the wrong spot. While they were talking about where the birds
were going to be coming from, Ralph said: “what is that over there?”
It looked to him like a leaf wafting down on the breeze far away over
the trees. He said “I think that’s my bird coming”,
Tom said, “if its your bird, then its going to land on the roof,
because your bird always lands on the roof!” Ralph said a little
prayer under his breath “please be my bird and please don’t
land on the roof”. Well, as that leaf got closer it turned into
a bird and it dropped straight in out of the west and forewent the turn
around that big old oak tree and hit the board directly. Ralph said it
was the most beautiful sight to see that bird drop in and then see that
it was indeed his bird! He just knew he was looking at the winner. And,
he was right! Then, to top it all off, here comes another bird and drops
in (this one made the hook around the oak like Bobby predicted) and low
and behold, it was Tom Marvelli’s bird, who took second! What a
day and they were both there to see their birds come in! The win not only
went to show that Ralph has great birds, but, also that Bobby Prestone
is a great pigeon handler. He knew that Ralph’s bird always landed
on the roof and therefore, would always let it go alone when training
after all the other birds were gone, so it would get trained, but wouldn’t
teach anyone else any bad habits. Maybe, it also learned to hustle a little
bit to catch up, or there wouldn’t be any chow left when it got
The I.F. Convention winner was, by the way, a product of the Veegate Huskens
crossed with a Lodi Deveriendt which Ralph got from Vinny Romeo. Vinny
Romeo has a reputation as a great flyer himself, winning the Nassau Suffolk
Band Race, the Islip Terrace Fututity, and taking 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in
the East Meadow Futurity.
Ralph keeps more pigeons in his breeding loft than most do and he can
do this because of the help he gets from Norma. But, he needs to keep
more birds because he is always ready to help out a fellow pigeon flyer
in need. Every year he raises birds for other flyers. Mostly, he raises
birds for beginners and kids that are interested in getting started. He
gives them birds of very good quality so they can compete.
But, he also has raised birds for other long time pigeon men who have
had disasters and might have dropped out of the sport without an assist
from Ralph to reconstitute their young bird team after being devastated
by an animal attack or disease. He has sent many a bird to a fundraiser
auction or race. He is the type of guy who always wants to help. Many
a time there have been special meetings to discuss a problem and find
volunteers to head up committees, and Ralph is always there.
In fact, he usually brings the donuts!