Brothers “Pin” College Costs with Identical Scholarships

Anthony Zanetta (A&S ’14) and Nick Zanetta (CBA ’18)
Nick (left) and Anthony Zanetta both Wrestled at Pitt and both earned the Vartabedian Family Olympic Sports Scholarship. 

The living room of the Zanetta family’s suburban Pittsburgh home was often far from tranquil. Each of the family’s three boys started wrestling at a very early age and seemed compelled to try out their moves on each other any chance they got.

“We had a brick fireplace in the living room and we all smacked our face on that a number of times,” Anthony Zanetta (A&S ’14) said. “I think a lot of my mom’s grey hairs came from that.”

Their father coached them through elementary school and each went on to successful wrestling careers at Keystone Oaks High School. The oldest brother, J.J., wrestled at Mercyhurst University where he was a two-time All-American. But when it came time for Anthony to go to college, Pitt was it for him.

“It was the entire package that brought me to Pitt,” he said. “The quality of the education, the proximity to home so my friends and family could watch me wrestle, and the Cathy and John Pelusi Family Life Skills Program was a great added benefit. No other schools were offering that type of a support program at the time.”

Another key part of the “package” was receiving the Vartabedian Family Olympic Sport Scholarship, which is given annually to a member of the wrestling team.

There is no better way to help a program and an individual than to make annual gifts and fund a scholarship.
- Nishan Vartabedian

Anthony did well throughout his Pitt wrestling career, earning Freshman of the Year honors and taking the NCAA Division I Eastern Wrestling League Championship for his weight class three of his four years.

When it came time for his younger brother Nick (CBA ’18) to choose a school, he only had eyes for Pitt, signing his letter of intent on the first day he was eligible.

And when it was time to offer Nick a scholarship, the program awarded him the same Vartabedian support.

“I got a real kick out of that,” Nishan Vartabedian (ENG ’67, KGSB ’69) said.

Nish, as he is known, says he likes to support Olympic sport teams in part because he believes their smaller budgets mean his gifts have a larger impact. Nish stresses that he does not have a say in who gets the scholarship that he funded through an endowed gift; however, he was pleased when he heard about Nick because he had already met his brother and his parents and immediately liked the family. “I haven’t been able to meet all the kids who received our family scholarship over the years, but when I have, it’s been an awful lot of fun,” Nish said.

Nishan and Vartabedian often return to Pitt for sporting events and to meet with athletes benefiting from the philanthropy
Nishan and Diana Vartabedian often return to Pitt for sporting events and to meet with athletes benefiting from their philanthropy

A Chancellor’s Circle-level donor for 20 years, Nish also supports the women’s tennis and softball programs at Pitt, saying he feels he can make a difference with his giving.

”If a student picks Pitt to continue their athletic and academic career, I hope that they are able to get all the support that they need to make them the best they can be,” Nish said. “That does not necessarily mean a national championship, but their personal best.”

In the case of the Zanetta brothers and Nish, the donor and the recipients are in lock step.

Both Nick and Anthony say the thing they miss most about no longer wrestling competitively is the comradery of the team, and supporting each other to “push your body and mind to places you did not think you could go.”

Both men landed jobs in sales, which, like wrestling, requires great self-motivation and individual performance in support of a team. Nick, who is just a few months into his post-college life, says he is now redirecting the laser focus he had when he was a wrestler. “I always had the goal to be the best and there was nothing better than having your hand raised (the referee’s indication of who won a match). It was the thing I was best at my whole life, now I’m taking that into the work world and doing everything I need to do to be the best at my career.”

He says being a student-athlete also taught him how to strive toward two goals that at times could be at odds with each other. He had to focus his time and energy on wrestling to maintain his spot on the team and the scholarship that allowed him to go to school. At the same time, he had to focus his time and energy on his schoolwork so he could retain his eligibility.

Nick and Anthony Zanetta take a break during a Pitt Wrestling Team workout
Nick (left) and Anthony Zanetta both Wrestled at Pitt and both earned the Vartabedian Family Olympic Sports Scholarship. 

Anthony and Nick admit they did not initially fully appreciate the scholarships they earned.

“When you are 18 years old you don’t really know how important a scholarship is, but my parents did,” Anthony said. “Now that I’m out of college, I appreciate it every day. It changed my life.”

And that is exactly why Nish says he has been making annual gifts to Pitt at the Chancellor's Circle level for the last 20 years.

“There is no better way to help a program and an individual than to make annual gifts and fund a scholarship,” Nish said.

Follow this link to read more stories from this issue of the Chancellor's Circle Update.