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Controversial Pro Wrestler Matt Hardy to Come to Barnegat High School

Schools superintendent says district is merely allowing use of its facility, not condoning the show starring former WWE/TNA star

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.

Fred Rubenstein June 01, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Joe, we wish the Masonic Lodge success tomorrow evening. But that does not erase the documented facts as concerns Matt Hardy, does it? And that is the sole issue of my comments, isn't it? If I do not like a certain restaurant, I find another restaurant. But I always look at the health department rating before ordering a meal. And, for the record, I never sought to be involved in this show. Nor have I sought to affect a detriment on this event. The public has a right to know the truth. Clearly, you do not dispute Mr. Hardy's unenviable criminal convictions. And since you claim to know he is now "clean," perhaps you can assuage concerns by providing the written results of your company's drug test on him. Facts - not opinions or hearsay.
Phil Varlese June 01, 2012 at 01:35 PM
I am one of the partners in Mr. Rubenstein's wrestling promotion. While I choose not to get involved in the dialogue between him and Mr. Panzarino concerning their past business, I will say that I am proud to serve as a partner to Mr. Rubenstein in his current endeavors. Our promotion, which is part of a national wrestling organization that has existed since 1948, has a business model that is based on elevating young wrestling talent, and exposing that talent to the wrestling fans in the areas we operate. It's clearly a different business model than the one espoused by Mr. Panzarino's organization. I won't stoop so low as to say my "brand" or business model is superior in any way, as I'd prefer to let wrestling fans decide that. During our time operating as a promotion, we've had successful fundraising shows for wonderful charities like Autism Speaks, The Red Cross, and Family Promise of Southern Ocean County. More important, families were entertained with a product that we are proud to present. And, while I'm certain that Mr. Panzarino will make the same claim, he flies under the banner of "family" entertainment while bringing in a wrestler who is less than a year from drug related issues, in a school district where both parents and students work diligently both in and out of school against drug and alcohol abuse.
joseph panzarino June 01, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Ref Richard`s please lets not get into a tit for tat we have been reasuerd by the various individuales that are involved in bringing Mr.Hardy expertise to the East Coast this weekend of his persoanll determination to clear his name and past well docemneted demons. Mr.Hardy`s apperances where brought forth to the sponsors beforehand meaning before any final adverstising and bookings where done & on this weekends shows both tonites event for a PBA fundraiser in Stirling NJ and of course tommorows event in Barnegat as all where aware of the unfortunate newsworthy entcounters of the past and all involved said everyone deserves a second chance. Especially the PBA , Now Referre Fred if we all thought like you and and if Mr.Hardy had his next 50 bookings as fundraisers in some school gym in these here United States of America and if you had your way you would want to have Mr.Hardy banned from working and earning a living at what he doe`s best FREDY ME BOY HOW UN AMERICAN IS THAT stopping some one from feeding his famile shame on you. I belive in my heart that if you where brought into the Masons loop on this show and offered a spot as a referre that the concerned parents committe would have never raised its head out of the sand in your front yard.Once again we thank you for your support and wish you and the family well as if the show is the success we belive & hope it will be it is only good for all of the Pro Wrestling business including even your promotion..
joseph panzarino June 01, 2012 at 01:53 PM
In regards to Rubensteins partner we here where waiting with batted breath for his backing of the Ref Fred , Phil what took U so long, watch out Fred does not stop short U would not what your nose broken see Ya at Harold`s in Edison.Gents there is no need to go any further with this but thats up to U boys wishing U both well as we here have to get busy for our double shot weekend that`s when U put to large scale events on instead of one tiny event in case U did not know it and if truth be told if U two imitaters of wrestling promoters had a chance to bring Hardy in U would B salivating and foaming from the mouth and we all three know who would be refing the Hardy main event also don`t we boys. Take Care Good Luck I`ll stay out of your hair if you stay out of mine leave well enough alone eye for and eye so on & so forth .
Fred Rubenstein June 01, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Your comments are your comments. Your speculation about what I might or might not have done is guesswork. The more you write, the more you illustrate the controversy that is the real issue - drug-related, criminal CONVICTIONS. The facts as concerns Mr. Hardy are just that - facts. Also interesting that his brother faced charges for using a taser device on a defenseless woman. Family entertainment? Solid gold role models for our children? No "tit for tat." Just email the documented drug test results to Patch Editors. Facts tell the story, not anonymous "assurances" from unnamed third parties. Good luck tomorrow evening!
joseph panzarino June 01, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Your convictions are well warranted Ref Fred all this worry from U is astounding this coming for the champion & advocate fro the ladies dog collar match & other steller & bombbistick events like wrestlers cursing at fans at your Brackmen school show some years ago or was it not U putting the late great Chris Candido in many a bout in your area knowing full well of his sorted past the list can go on & on..& can if U want it to. Gotta tell ya pal after this last little childish tirade of yours the last 10 years of not dealing with U has been a blessing as U could drive any one with a half of mind to drink. any way keep up the good work as the publicity good or bad has been a boost to the already good ticket sales as we have just ordered more ringside chairs for the show. Tickets are available by calling 732-888-1704 mention code word REF FRED and get courtsey reserved ringside seats. Thanks NPW & the Mariners Masons
Fred Rubenstein June 01, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Please produce the documented drug testing results, Joe. Your lame attempts to stray from the true issue are, at best, sophomoric. It is not about me. It is not about you. It is not about the sponsoring group or the school system. It is not about something that might or might not have happened over a decade ago - sort of like missing money from an NJ PBA-involved wrestling show in another town.. It is about your bringing a CONVICTED drug user into Barnegat's public schools. It's about you refusing to provide documented drug testing results. And that will not change. Barnegat and the surrounding vicinity has seem too much in the way of innocent people being traumatized or killed because of substance abusers. You allege you have "assurances" that this performer is "clean." Send Patch the drug test results and this matter settles itself. End this stupidity. Produce the records, Joe. Produce the documented drug test records the same way parents of our youngsters have produced Mr. Hardy's uncontested record.
Brian Huber June 01, 2012 at 03:31 PM
The irony here is just too much. I have to get my 2 cents in. Everyone is focusing on Matt's alleged "drug problem" as bad for the kids and family image, but ultra-violence is perfectly fine!! What a bunch of hypocrits! What exactly about his drug use makes him a bad person?
Eric Thomas June 01, 2012 at 03:41 PM
A most erudite observation. I believe the answer is that both are inappropriate for presentation in a public school building - - especially in a school system that is asserive in its anti-bullying efforts. The DARE program has achieved countless success in Barnegat's schools. The event producer has been asked to produce drug testing results to prove his claim that the convicted substance abuser is now clean. Should be a simple matter. Following the links provided above, I learned that the WWE conducts mandatory, periodic testing, The story via The Baltimore Sun leads to very disturbing information. It is well worth reading. I agree with what I believe is the basis for Mr. Huber's comment. I do not believe any violent exhibition, feigned or otherwise, has any place in a public school.
Eric Thomas June 01, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Perhaps the current headline story on Patch says it better - - http://barnegat-manahawkin.patch.com/articles/barnegat-police-search-leads-to-drug-arrest
Pete June 01, 2012 at 04:11 PM
What has happened here is simply one competitor trying their hardest to squash the other guys show. We are working to raise funds that will go DIRECTLY back in to Barnegat and other Ocean County towns. I have been working closely with the NWS to make this a successful event for our organization, and they have been professional every step of the way. Having "stirred the pot" has done nothing but undermine the work that we are trying to do for our community, and assured me that I made the correct decision when I contacted NWS. So many people are quick to judge and comment, but a rare few look in the mirror first. If everyone stepped up to the plate to help their neighbors and communities, maybe stories like the one above would happen less and less.
Eric Thomas June 01, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Mr. Rahtjen, why cannot Mr. Panzarino simply produce the drug testing records so this matter can be put to rest? Certainly, no one can deny Mr. Hardy's criminal record, now can they? Would a major newspaper like The Baltimore Sun publish erroneous information? Perhaps this is a silly attempt at competition in an open market. But nowhere did I read any words by anybody urging a boycott of tomorrow's event. If you read that, please supply the quote. The article that began this unnecessary chain of comments was written by two Patch reporters; not anybody who has weighed in thus far. And if you call Mr. Panzarino's threatening comments an example of "professionalism," perhaps a definition of that word is in order. I urge you to help squash this controversy. Since your group retained the event promoter, it should be very easy for you to require him to produce the latest drug test. Again, best of luck tomorrow. I admire your organization's work.
Drivingtoofar June 01, 2012 at 04:22 PM
I don't know maybe it is me...perhaps we should not consider any pro wrestler or athlete as a role model...they are human and have human flaws. Maybe one pro athlete we could look up to is someone like Pat Tilman, other than that I am hard pressed to find any athlete to be a role model.
Eric Thomas June 01, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Please add Tim Tebow to that list. Mr. Tebow is everything a athlete "role model" should be.
Drivingtoofar June 01, 2012 at 04:40 PM
I do not think Tebow is a role model. Sure it is great that he has his beliefs and carries himself in a good way, but all he does is play foot ball. Tillman gave up football to serve in our military after 9/11. One is sacrifice the other is not.
Fred Rubenstein June 01, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Let's set matter straight, Peter. Before I left for Europe, I reached out to you twice in an effort to inform you about Mr. Hardy and offer you an alternative deal. You never got back to me. I reached out personally - confidentially - not via newspapers, etc. Joe Panzarino got this show fair and square. I hope it succeeds. That is good for the industry and those who make a living in it. On May 12 (while I was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean), people placed brochures on the windshields of cars at a venue in Bayville without permission that advertised your event. Not an ethical way to do things, sir. And they were removed before they were read. Had you or your agent asked, we would have shown the courtesy of allowing it. I live in Barnegat and I still give a hoot about this town. I received a copy of the email mentioned in the article. I forwarded it to the proper person within your organization. That's how business is done. Choose whomever you please to trade with, Peter. But do not, by inference, attempt to attack me and my partners. We run a clean house. You know how to contact me if you want to. I am amenable to a gentlemanly discussion. I hope tomorrow goes well for your organization. I bear you no malice.
Eric Thomas June 01, 2012 at 05:16 PM
A valid point as concerns Mr.Tebow.
Katia Raina June 01, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Hi Eric. Please let me know what exactly you'd like to see me express my opinion on here. We were planning to preview this event no matter what, before the controversy came to light, I would consider it a disservice to the readers if after knowing about some of these objections, we kept that information back, wouldn't you? We tried to offer a presentation fair to both sides of this issue. If you have any questions that you feel we could answer, ask away., and we'll try and help provide the answer, even though really everything we found out about this we have posted here in this article. Thank you!
Brian Huber June 01, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Tebow. Hah, too funny. Can we say "soapbox"? What makes him a role model? Because he espouses christian beliefs? So F&*^ing what! Who cares?! You don't need religion to be a role model or have morals.
Leroy Souveroff June 01, 2012 at 05:57 PM
At last a post that makes some sense ! Couldn't the Masons have come up with a better fundraiser than a show that glorifies mindless violence? As an event planner and agent I have refused to deal with any sort of event that promotes "professional" wrestling. And perhaps the school system should have some stricter guidlines as to what is allowed on school property. Maybe they aren't endorsing the show, but they are certainly saying it's acceptable. Parents should be concerned about this type of event. I wonder how much protest there would be if the school allowed a "Pole Dancing Contest" to be held as a fundraiser? Violence is fine, but some sexuality would met with a parade of protestors ! People need to re-evalute their values.
Leroy Souveroff June 01, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Good for you ! Let me also point out that mindless violence, whether faked or not, has the same detrimental affect on people, particularly teenage boys.
John June 01, 2012 at 06:50 PM
1: Mr. Rubinstein sounds like a kid throwing a temper-tantrum that didn't get his way! 2: The outfit the Masons are using have been used my police, fire, ems and churches alike. 3: The local Masons over the years have donated 10's of thousands of dollars to various causes in ourthe local community most notablely lately the young boy who pasted away Kyle..., just wondering Mr. Rubinstein what have you donated to the local community? 4: You sir should be ashamed of youself for the damage you may have caused OUR COMMUNITY by hurting this charitable group of men who do nothing but, serve the people of this community and they do it without wanting thanks. 5: Also, the only letter i beleive was written was by members of Mr. Rubinstein family and employees. While I am not a fan of wrestling it has been around for decades..., heck I can remember the very first Wrestle Mania so many years ago and even then people didn't take them serious and if kids beleive all this then they have failures as parents!! 5: If the Masons were lesser people they should sue you for the loss you may have caused them, a loss that YOU HAVE HURT OUR COMMUNITY..., a COMMUNITY YOU SAY YOU ARE A MEMBER OF!!! 6: Have a nice day Mr. RUBINSTEIN/LEROY/ERIC..., the reason i write that is because, the rant all seems to be the same!! Again, thank you for hurting OUR COMMUNITY over your petty business tantrum of not getting this event.
Frank June 01, 2012 at 07:37 PM
I agree that the general message of pro wrestling isn't a good one for kids. Basically the premise is, the best way to resolve an issue between people is to beat up those who disagree with you. As a parent of a 9 year old, I would exercise caution in bringing a child to a pro wrestling show. While the "business" of wrestling has gone on for years, it appears that there is a lot more about it that most of us don't understand. With that said, growing up as a kid, I watched cartoons on TV that were far more violent than the pro wrestling seen on television today. Let's be honest, what is worse, John Cena chasing a guy out of the ring, or Wile E. Coyote getting blown up by a bomb courtesy of the Road Runner? Despite the violence, I grew up just fine. I suppose that if I was going to bring my son to a pro wrestling show, I would simply remind him that first and foremost, it isn't real, and second, that some of the guys that are pro wrestlers are not necessarily honorable people that he could look up to as role models. It's sad, since there are really few role ,models for kids these days.
Jo C June 01, 2012 at 07:58 PM
Looks like Ref Fred is a little jealouse of a big name wrestler. I have been to Ref Freds shows a couple of times. BORING!!!!! Drug use???? Whatever happened to forgiveness and a second chance? Suddenly we no longer forgive Mr. Ref Fred??? I guess you can throw the first stone. Bottom line the guy used drugs. He messed up. He does not deny it. Frogive and offer him a helping hand, not a syringe. You talk about a bad example for the kids of Barnegat? You are kidding right? There are plenty of bad examples in Barnegat for the kids. Look beyond your own interest. What have you done for me lately??????
NL June 01, 2012 at 08:26 PM
I really think everyone has a stick up you know where. Its a wrestling show not a meeting on how to snort cocaine.
Eric Thomas June 01, 2012 at 08:38 PM
What a pathetic commentary this string is. An article is published, parents voice concerns, people provide informational links and this turns into an unsophisticated brawl. Mr. Hardy is a public figure. Facts about his character have been brought forward. Anybody desiring to see tomorrow's event is free to do so, if they choose.
Barry June 01, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Further down in the thread, someone summed this up so well when they said that some parents expressed concerns, an article was written as a result, and a melee ensued. Your comments seem personally directed at Fred Rubenstein, who I know from his involvement here in the community. Last year, I attended a show at St. Mary's in Manahwakin which his organization sponsored. While I'm not a wrestling fan, I was entertained by the show, and as I recall, a check for several thousand dollars was presented to the charity involved. THAT is exactly what was given back to the community. Again, the issue here shouldn't be WHO is presenting a show or the charity involved. The focus should be on whether who is on it is in the best interests of the community. The Patch should be thanked for their fair coverage of the topic, and allowing parents (and students) to make a decision about attending with proper information. Stop being petty and personal. Grow up.
Big Red Studd June 01, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Oh yeah!!!! Matt Hardy!!!!!!!! Yesssssss!!!!
letsallgetalong June 03, 2012 at 12:05 PM
Eric said it best "Anybody desiring to see tomorrow's event is free to do so, if they choose." , let's be real though about parents voicing concerns. Some of these same parents have no problem with their kid's watching Arod(steroid user), Tiger Woods(infidelity), Lebron James(marijuana user) etc... the list goes on...
GLP June 03, 2012 at 12:37 PM
I'm glad somebody finally said it! Throughout reading the article and the comments below, I kept thinking...what about all the other professional athletes who are horrific role models? Do the parents who complained about Matt Hardy prohibit their children from watching or attending professional sporting events all together? I think we'd be hard pressed to fine one sport that DIDN'T have athletes who have issues that I wouldn't want my children to follow. Money doesn't buy you class and that's the end of it. I've considered taking my son to one of the local wrestling "professional" matches, but if this is how the owners of these organizations act, forget it.

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