Opioid abuse has plagued Long Island for years. In response to the crisis, one organization is striving to use sports as a way to keep young people off the wrong path.
Wrestling Takes Down Drugs (WTDD), a campaign started by the nonprofit Friends of Long Island Wrestling, has been going around high school wrestling meets for the past year and asking student wrestlers to sign a pledge promising to abstain from substance abuse. So far, more than 20 high school wrestling teams have signed the pledge, including Wantagh, MacArthur, Mineola, Port Washington, Massapequa and Locust Valley.
“Our sport has a unique ability that separates it from many sports,” WTDD President Jerry Seckler, himself a former All-American wrestler at Penn State, said. “It’s a competitive sport, it’s a sport that requires competitors to be in great shape and most of the kids that wrestle, if they wrestle long enough, are very interested in maintaining their body and condition.”
The campaign’s website says the organization “believes that the sport of amateur wrestling helps to build the personal characteristics necessary for a strong citizenry, one comprised of individuals with leadership qualities that are based upon self-discipline, self-determination and self-confidence.”
The organization claims that wrestling can serve as an effective solution to many of the problems that lead young people to turn to drugs in the first place, providing benefits like added confidence and a peer group filled with like-minded individuals.
WTDD’s first major event was an educational wrestling meet held at Nassau County Community College in conjunction with Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and county police commissioner Patrick Ryder back in February, which featured hundreds of student wrestlers competing against one another interspaced with brief educational lectures from experts about the harms of drug use and what people can do to stay away from danger. Former Ultimate Fighting Championship title holder and Baldwin-born wrestler Chris Weidman was on hand at the event to lend his expertise to the young wrestlers.
“The kids were extremely interested, they paid real attention,” Seckler said. “What surprised the guys that were doing it was how attentive the varsity kids were.”
WTDD is planning its second annual “Wrestling Takes Down Drugs” event at the community college this coming February. The organization hopes to get every high school wrestling team on Long Island to join their ranks over the next couple years, and has already begun to expand outside the island. The organization’s first event in New Jersey is coming up soon, and later events in Colorado and Oklahoma are in the works as well.
For more information on the campaign, visit www.wrestlingtakesdowndrugs.com.