Opioid abuse has plagued Long Island’s youth for years. In response to the crisis, one organization is striving to use sports as a way to keep young people off the path of drug addiction.
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, 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.”
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 an outlet for stress, added confidence, a counter to boredom 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 police commissioner Patrick Ryder 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 at the event to lend his expertise to 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 also in the works.
For more information on the campaign, visit www.wrestlingtakesdowndrugs.com. Anybody who would like to contribute to Wrestling Takes Down Drugs can donate online at www.classy.org/give/189274/#!/donation/checkout.