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Long Island wrestlers to fight drug use

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Kevin Murphy never had the time to get in trouble in high school — he was always too busy wrestling. “I always just enjoy the camaraderie of it,” said Murphy, who wrestled at Lynbrook High School and now coaches the team. “It’s a better thing to do than to be left at home alone.”

He said he hoped the sport could also be an inspiration for today’s youth, and keep them out of trouble and, more important, away from drugs. On Feb. 16, the Friends of Long Island Wrestling and the Nassau County Police Department will host the inaugural Wrestling Takes Down Drugs Day, an initiative that promotes the sport and spreads awareness of the dangers of drug use.

A number of former Baldwin wrestlers will headline the event, including former UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman. Weidman, who has a 14-4 professional record, graduated from Baldwin High School in 2002. “He really is a role model,” Murphy said of Weidman. “His participation carries a lot of significance.”

Another former Bruin scheduled to attend and speak is Paul Gillespie, who in 1969 was voted most outstanding athlete at Baldwin High. He has since gone on to a career as a coach in Long Beach and Wantagh, where he still coaches today. Gillespie was inducted into the National Wresting Hall of Fame in 2006, one of five Bruins to earn the honor.

Patrick Ryder, the NCPD commissioner and a former Lynbrook wrestler, will also attend. “These people know what wrestling did for them,” Murphy said. The event will take place at Nassau Community College’s fieldhouse, at 1 Education Drive in Garden City, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Opioid use has been rampant in Baldwin, and across much of Long Island, in recent years. Between January 2017 and April 2018, there were 49 overdoses in the community, six of which were fatal.

Last July, Nassau County police made 108 drug-related arrests in Baldwin as part of an initiative to fight drug use countywide.

“It’s hard to find a family that hasn’t been affected,” Jerry Seckler, president of Friends of Long Island Wrestling, said, “or knows someone who has been affected by this.”

For Murphy, the connection to the epidemic was Larry Glenz, whose son Kevin died of a drug overdose. “It really made it personal for all of us,” Murphy said. “It made me realize that it’s time to give back and address the younger generation.”

Murphy wrestled with Hillary Becker, Lynbrook’s deputy mayor, and Ryder during high school. Murphy credited Ryder with reducing the county’s overdose numbers. “I don’t know anybody who’s done more to help tackle the drug crisis,” he said.

Seckler, who wrestled for Valley Stream Central High School, said that wrestling is the perfect sport to teach young people about the dangers of drug use. “First of all, you can’t wrestle if you’re on drugs to begin with,” he said. “Wrestling is a sport that requires an incredible amount of discipline . . . There are basic life lessons built into the sport.”

The Friends of Long Island Wrestling has raised money for anti-drug causes in the past, Seckler said.

Murphy said that the event was originally scheduled for Lynbrook High School, but was moved to Nassau Community College after more people expressed interest in attending. His hope, he said, was that similar events would be held throughout the country in the coming months.