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Modified: April 27, 2021 7:00am
Created: April 27, 2021 7:00am

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April 27, 2021

April 27, 2021

Commissioner Howard A. Zucker, MD
New York State Department of Health
Corning Tower - Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12237

Dear Dr. Zucker,

This correspondence is being sent on behalf of a group of student athletes, coaches and parents that feel they are being discriminated against in Erie County as it pertains to our local health department banning students from participating in the sport of scholastic wrestling.

A few months ago, I wrote to express my concern that youth ice hockey was arbitrarily being stopped with no basis in science, data, or facts. Thank you very much for listening to and acting on our concerns and opening the door for the successful return of ice hockey in Erie County. You deserve credit for that.  Ice hockey players, teams, leagues, coaches, and parents are grateful for what you did to let kids play. 

Our work doing what is best for student athletes is far from over, though.  Now, high school wrestling is still banned in Erie County. It is my understanding Erie County is the only county in New York State and quite possibly the entire nation that is actively blocking students from wrestling.

I applaud coaches, athletic directors, parents, and athletes who have brought forth important data to return safely to the mat. While virtually every other New York State county and neighboring state has allowed wrestling to resume, Erie County athletes remain barred from participating. In Section VI, of which Erie County is a part of, Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Niagara counties start their season on Monday, May 3. Because the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) won’t approve of the sport resuming, Erie County schools feel unable to move forward with a season for wrestling.

Supporters have urged the ECDOH to review the facts, especially in comparison to other sports given approval to have a season. Local TV station WGRZ interviewed a longtime coach and parent of wrestlers who pointed out that “a typical match lasts no longer than six minutes, and in some cases can only last seconds, which is far less time for exposure, for example, than two linemen might encounter when they battle in close quarters on a football field, where there are 22 players at a time with liberal substitutions.”

This is just one example from one sport. Additional contact sports that have been allowed to have seasons with guidelines in place also include close contact as part of the game.

Dennis Bauer, ECIC Wrestling Chairman, recently spoke to local media and pointed out numerous statistics that strongly support the notion it is safe and healthy for students to return to wrestling.

He noted, “most of New York State has already wrestled with fewer pauses than many other sports. Sections II (Albany area), III (Syracuse area), IV (Binghamton area) and V (Rochester area) all had zero teams paused. Section VIII (Nassau County) had six pauses among 50 teams and Section XI (Suffolk County) had eight teams paused among 72.”

Reportedly, there were no outbreaks of COVID-19 associated with wrestling meets in other parts of NYS where counties held their wrestling seasons during the winter.

In addition, private wrestling clubs have been open in the state since February. Bauer reported that the Bison Wrestling Club in Depew has reported zero cases of transmission between wrestlers. Furthermore, Bauer noted that college wrestling has safely occurred in Erie County, as have mixed martial arts, karate, boxing, Jiu Jitsu training and competitions.

However, the most concerning “statistic” reported by Chairman Bauer was that the Erie County Department of Health has stubbornly refused to meet with concerned members of the wrestling community. That is unacceptable. It is a slap in the face to families across our region.  Only through open dialogue based on facts and data, not irrational fear, and anger, can the ECDOH serve families to the best of its ability.  The only rational, logical explanation for this refusal to even listen to those supporting a return to wrestling is that our government bureaucrats cares more about power, control and earning hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime than doing what is best for children.

In the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have often been concerns that regulations some politicians themselves do not even follow lack common sense and fairness. The issues raised in support of wrestling suggests that the ECDOH is failing these athletes, many of whom have been working for years in hopes of earning a scholarship to college, and to wrestle one last time as seniors.

On behalf of the numerous parents, athletes, and coaches that my office has heard from, please work with our local health department to reverse their punitive and bizarre banning of high school wrestling in Erie County.  Our children deserve better than this.  Thank you once again for your positive efforts to return ice hockey to our region.  I hope we can work together again to bring scholastic wrestling back as soon as possible before the dream of completing the season this year evaporates.




Erie County Comptroller

For a PDF copy of the letter, please CLICK HERE