Local Masons are teaming up with a wrestling organization to host a charity event at the Barnegat High School Saturday featuring controversial wrestling superstar Matt Hardy, whose appearance has earned the ire of some parents because of his history of drug abuse.
Hardy is a well-known act in wrestling, who's performed for more than 18 years. Along with his brother Jeff he formed the “Hardy Boyz” tag team in the WWF/WWE, capturing the companies' tag team titles six times. Perhaps his best-known involvement with the WWE was in the company’s first ever “Tables, Ladders, and Chairs” match at WrestleMania which later became one of the defining moments of the WWE’s famous “Attitude Era”.
More recently Hardy competed in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling as a main event talent. After a few short months competing on his own he eventually reunited with his brother Jeff in the company for a brief time period to reform the “Hardy Boyz” tag team. After a five-month stint it was reported that Hardy had been released after being issued a DWI.
The professional wrestling show, which will feature Hardy as the headlining act, will serve as a fundraiser for the Mariners Masonic Lodge in Barnegat along with the Barnegat PBA. The group intends to use the proceeds to help fund their five scholarships given out at the end of every year.
“Throughout the year we support a number of charities like the Dyslexia Center in New Jersey and we have people that often contact us looking for donations for different events that they’re trying to raise money for,” said Peter Rahtjen, the organizer of the event and member of the Mariners Masons.
But when the word of the show spread in town, a group of parents wrote a letter to the Barnegat Board of Education, asking the board to cancel Hardy's appearance due to the wrestler's criminal record.
"The fear is that a wrestler with this type of background will appear at this event, and due to the larger than life status as an 'athlete,' kids might be easily influenced by his actions," the anonymous letter read. "Some of our kids have expressed disappointment in his appearance, and have been shouted down by a few other students, which is one of the reasons that no one will appear at tonight’s board meeting to discuss this matter, out of fear of reprisal against our kids by the students who may ignore this man’s past and want him at the show."
Hardy has a criminal past with at least three different arrests pertaining to drug possession and DWI charges, report say. The most recent of his arrests came in September 2011 after a police raid of his North Carolina home revealed he had been possessing 20 vials of anabolic steroids and one hit of ecstasy, police said. The arrest was his third in less than a month at that time.
Subsequently, Hardy posted a cryptic video on his YouTube page that lead many fans to believe he was about to commit suicide, causing an uproar and over 30 reported calls into 911 over his well-being.
School officials say they aren't endorsing Hardy or condoning his behavior, just allowing the use of the school facility to legitimate community organizations.
"The Masons followed all the appropriate requirements for the use of facilities policy," said Barnegat Schools Superintendent Karen Wood, adding that the policy is an agreement the district adheres to with anyone else who utilizes the schools, from senior softball league to Boy Scouts.
"If Barnegat Township Recreation is coming, we don't fingerprint the coaches, the township fingerprints the coaches, and the recreation department determines who the right coaches are," Wood explained, as an example. "I understand the concern about Matt Hardy, and of course the school does not promote his history and the allegations of what I understand some of the issues have been."
Wood said the school district reached out to the Masons, to let them know there have been concerns, "but really it's up to the Masons to determine who they want to have wrestle.
"I feel bad for the organization, that they are under some scrutiny, because they do a lot of great things in town," Wood added.
Masons spoke to the show's producers, New-Jersey based wrestling organization National Pro Wrestling Superstars, and were reassured that everyone involved in the performance was currently drug-free, Rahtjen said.
“I wanted an assuring that all the guys were clean, there was no trouble and ["Johnny Falco"] assured me that was the case,” said Rahtjen. “A lot of people have demons and I think this guy is turning his life around and I think everybody deserves a second chance.”
When asked about the issues raised in the letter, NPWS owner's Joseph Panzarino, who goes by the stage name "Johnny Falco," sympathized with the concerned parents but said he and his organization believe Hardy found himself on hard times and has since changed his ways.
“[We’re] bringing in a guy who had a problem, the problem is over,” he said. “The Masons, the promotion, and the PBA’s all believe in giving a guy a second chance. He’s cleaned up his act and what more can you say? Are you going to condemn him for the rest of his life?”
The National Pro Wrestling Superstars is an independent wrestling organization, which prides itself on giving their audience a show for all ages. The company’s main demographic is young children and their parents, the organizers said.
The company not only features several major stars, but also local acts looking to make a name for themselves. Often the company is called in to run shows by local PBAs and other organizations. They tour around the east coast at several local venues including other Central and Jersey Shore high schools as well as various VFW locations.
“We’re going to show the people that National Pro Wrestling is the leader in the tri-state area of family-style pro wrestling fundraisers and we would do nothing to hurt the Masons' reputation or the reputation of our company,” said Panzarino. “We thrive on family entertainment.”
The show, which begins at 7:45 pm at the high school auditorium at 180 Bengal Boulevard, in addition to having Matt Hardy, will feature other wrestling acts, including TNA star “Robbie E” and former WWE Women's Champion Lailani Kai. Tickets can be purchased for $18 for bleacher and $20 for ringside seats, and can be bought by calling (732) 888-1704.
”It’s going to be what people expect from pro wrestling sans any foul language and things of that nature, a good high profile, high-flying, bone-crunching [event],” Panzarino said.