Wrestling With Heartache And Discrimination – Prejudice At The Jersey Shore

Wrestling With Heartache And Discrimination - Prejudice At The Jersey Shore

photo source: Brick Mustangs Wrestling on Twitter

Last night I opened up Facebook and started to read what was in my news feed. I got to a post about a young man that is on the same football team as my son. As I read through the post, which was written by his father and fairly specific, I was overwhelmed with emotions. As I finished reading I found myself crying, hurting and enraged about an experience the boy had just had. The boy’s name is David. David is a well-liked and well-rounded young man who has a great personality and knows his mind. He happens to be a 19-year old young man with Down syndrome.

Wrestling With Heartache And Discrimination - Prejudice At The Jersey Shore
(screenshot taken with permission of Dan, David’s father)

I have personally watched David play football week after week. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone on the field working harder to help the team win. He is dedicated and very competitive. He also participates in other sports including wrestling, basketball and swimming. He’s just as passionate about wrestling as he is about football, maybe even more so. One of his goals was to be a part of the high school wrestling team. Now a high school senior, David has been a member of the high school wrestling team for three years.

Two days ago David’s wrestling team, the Mustangs, was slated to compete against their cross-town rivals, the Dragons. Local press was to attend the match to get photos and video for a feel-good piece they were putting together about David and his wrestling coaches. The Mustangs arrived at the venue and just minutes before the meet started were informed “by the Brick Dragons that nobody on the Dragon team wanted to wrestle David.”

As I followed the discussion on Facebook, the general concensus was and still remains outrage, disappointment and a host of other negative feelings towards the Dragon team. I share this sentiment and I’ll tell you why.


(video used with permission of Dan, David’s father)

I admit, I do not know a ton about high school wrestling. I do know that David is an official member of the Mustangs wrestling team, with blessing of parents, doctors and all else entailed. I do know that David competes pretty regularly. He has wrestled all over New Jersey in high school competition and noone has ever refused to wrestle with him. Sometimes he wins (as shown in the video where he won his match against the Dragons last year). Sometimes he loses, as shown in the clip below. In each video I watched you could see his passion for the sport. David competes hard and looks for no special treatment. And to their credit, videos also showed opponents wrestling him fairly.


(video used with permission of Dan, David’s father)

Now last I checked, wrestling, like other high school sports teams, is overseen by adults. You know, those grown-up folks that we call coaches. I could be mistaken but I thought that wrestlers had to wrestle the athletes in their weight class. I really didn’t think there was a choice on if they wanted to wrestle another qualified wrestler. How would that work? Would students then be able to refuse to compete just because someone had red hair? I doubt it. Decline competition because the opponent had a different skin color? I don’t think so. That’s called discrimination. Well folks, the way I see it, that’s exactly what happened here on the Jersey shore the other night. In my opinion, David was the victim of prejudice and discrimination.

As with many conversations, both offline and on social media sites like Facebook, other voices have chimed in. At least one Dragons parent claims their kids weren’t given a choice. I have heard other claims that there were three wrestlers in David’s weight class, and that all three said they didn’t want to wrestle David. No matter which way you look at it, responsibility must be placed upon the Dragons coach. No self-respecting coach would allow players to discriminate against someone because they looked different. Again I remind you, David is on the Mustangs team, and should therefore be able to participate in competition as does any other Mustang. What should have been a friendly cross-town rivalry where young men have fun turned into heartbreak.

Every kid remembers playing ball (and other games) as a young child. We all remember the feeling of being picked or not picked. That’s because those games and competitions were not organized sports with rules. David had the right to participate in the meet. I cannot imagine how he must have felt to arrive looking forward to competition only to find that the other team didn’t want to wrestle with him. That is such poor sportsmanship on the part of the Dragons and it is unacceptable. I know what it’s like to be treated differently, because I was as a child and because my youngest has been as well, as he has Down syndrome. It is an awful feeling. And make no mistake. While people with Down syndrome may be different from “typical” people in some ways, they are the same in many ways including having the ability to feel emotional pain.

Leadership, acceptance and inclusion are things that are learned by listening and watching. What example did the Dragons coach set for his team by permitting his athletes to refuse to wrestle David? Or if you prefer the other version, what message did he send if the athletes weren’t asked and he refused? There is no version of this event that doesn’t land the blame squarely on the Dragons coaching staff.

The manner with which this was handled is very disappointing and hurtful for all involved. I hate to know that David is hurting. I hate that his parents have to watch him hurt. I hate that my son, who also has Down syndrome, lives in a community and could be treated this way. People with special needs have rights just like you and I. The Dragons need to take a good look at their leadership and consider the road that they are heading down as well as the lessons they are teaching our children and the examples they are setting. Discrimination and prejudice are not acceptable and something needs to be done.

The local press was present at the meet the other night. In an ideal world they would take the story that unfolded right before their eyes and run a human interest piece. Further, in an ideal world the Brick Board of Education would find a way to educate their coaching staff appropriately. Maybe the coach should spend some time with his cross-town opponents watching how inclusion works. Or, he could go one town over and watch Point Pleasant Boro Football, which is the finest example of inclusion I have seen.

In an ideal world this never would have happened.

19 Comments

  1. I use to wrestle for old brick an I was put in this situation before first hand. My coach asked me to wrestle a kid with special needs an I was skeptical at first an then he reminded me “hey I can’t make you go out there but if you do just have fun an do the right thing that’s all I can ask” I could’ve said no but I went ahead an let the kid pin me. Moral of the story is. COACHES CANNOT FORCE A STUDENT ATHLETE to do anything. To take shots at a staff that made me a better person an athlete I am today is an insult I do not take kindly. Think before you accuse.

  2. I am APPALLED this sort of thing has taken place SO close to home. I can tell you one thing, my son would be in for a very rude awakening if he displayed this sort of behavior.

  3. Let’s be honest here, it’s an absolute shame that none of the opposing team wanted to wrestle David. I think that shows overall a poor perspective of the grand scheme of life from the wrestlers of Old Brick. However, to leave the blame solely on the coaches, and to expect them to FORCE a student athlete to compete is equally as ignorant as the high school students who refused to wrestle this young man. As someone who has been on the other side of this argument as well as a frequent volunteer of special needs programs in the area, I can tell you for certain that as terrible as this situation is; for anyone to call for action forcing these student athletes and/or coaches to compete against their will is wrong, and a terrible viewpoint of “forcing a fix” for a situation in which some education about special needs children would have gone a long way.

  4. Heartbreaking, unfair, discriminatory. Too many non-adults follow the lead of their peers , their parents, their authority figures perhaps even coaches. The school system should take definite steps so that this form of unlegal behavior tantamount to bullying happens to no one. Perhaps those who refused should be barred from future participation…but then athletics and winning performances matter to too many people not how to play the game. I think it is time for another board meeting.

  5. I would like to say I am shocked, but really, this type of disgusting behavior seems to be growing more common. We must continue to advocate, raise awareness and never allow these sad, close minded viewpoints to become the new normal.

  6. Very well put. This broke my heart when I first saw the story the other day and every time I read more my heart breaks a little more! It infuriates me that “ADULTS” allowed this kind of behavior and they are being paid through OUR tax dollars to coach and teach this prejudice and discrimination to our children. I can only hope the boys who refused have learned a lesson from this. And if in fact it was the coach who made this decision then I would hope he would lose his right to coach and teach. There is no room in this world for people who are so small minded.

  7. My heart hurts for this boy and I applaud parents like you who are willing to take a stand for what they believe in, – your voice is important and hopefully this post will inspire others to speak out against this kind of treatment of differently abled individuals.

  8. I hope the coaching staff do not continue to get away with this. Kids look up to them and this is unacceptable.

  9. I would look at this as an opportunity for starting a great conversation. I am not at all familiar with this situation other then this post. It sounds like the teams could come together to talk about inclusion and David’s abilities. Instead of placing blame or pointing fingers, treat EVERYONE with kindness and work towards a solution.
    Getting outraged never solved any problems.
    I think that it is great that you shared this story so that next time someone comes across a situation where someone has different (dis)abilities they will think twice and have an open discussion before making any rash decisions.

  10. There is definitely a problem with that coaching staff if they are allowing this to happen. As adults we are to lead by example. I feel your outrage as I also have a special needs child, a son who is autistic, and my cousin has a daughter with Down Syndrome. I wouldn’t want them treated like this young man was treated.

  11. Oh my lanta this is heartbreaking. People can be cruel but then there’s just plain evil. Hope everything works out okay.

  12. That breaks my heart and infuriates me at the same time. These kids are just as good – just as worthy – as any other kid out there. To be treated any differently than that is always, ALWAYS, wrong.

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