Bethlehem Mayor Apologizes for Yelling at Wrestling Ref

'I should have handled this incident better,' John Callahan says in prepared statement.

Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan issued an apology for yelling at an official during the District 11 Class AAA wrestling tournament on Saturday, saying, “I should have handled this incident better.”

In the prepared statement, which was emailed to reporters early Monday evening, Callahan said he had personally apologized to the referee, Dennis Buchman of Drums (Luzerne County), for the incident, which resulted in him being ejected from the stands at Liberty High School, where the tournament was held.

“We’ve both been involved in wrestling for decades and had a warm conversation reflecting on the great passion that we have for the sport,” Callahan said.

Callahan’s news release came from Eric Nagy, who is managing Callahan’s campaign to become Northampton County executive. Callahan is serving his last year as Bethlehem’s mayor.

“As someone in a line of work subject to plenty of criticism, I can certainly appreciate the difficult job that Mr. Buchman has to do,” Callahan said.

The news release included a statement from Buchman, the referee, who said the “incident has been blown out of proportion and is being made into something different than it was.”

“I truly appreciate Mayor Callahan reaching out to me today to apologize,” Buchman said in the release. “It meant a lot to me and I think it sets a good example for our fans and young athletes involved in sports. 

“Certainly John and I both want to put this behind us.”

According to one eyewitness, who commented on the first Patch story about the incident, it took place during a match between wrestlers from Liberty and Freedom high schools. Callahan was one of a number of Freedom fans who yelled at Buchman after the referee made an unfavorable call.

Callahan, who is a Liberty graduate but now has a son who wrestles for Freedom, was asked to leave and did so without incident, the witness said.

Here is the full text of Callahan’s statement:

“As a community leader, a passionate wrestling fan, and a supportive parent of a student athlete, I should have handled this incident better, no matter how I felt about the calls made during the match.

I have a tremendous amount of admiration for the sport of wrestling, and I respect the referee, Dennis Buchman’s right to call the match the way he sees it. I personally reached out to Mr. Buchman today to apologize. We’ve both been involved in wrestling for decades and had a warm conversation reflecting on the great passion that we have for the sport.

Certainly, when Mr. Buchman stepped onto the mat, he didn’t expect to find himself in this situation any more than I did. As someone in a line of work subject to plenty of criticism, I can certainly appreciate the difficult job that Mr. Buchman has to do.

That said, both Mr. Buchman and I agree that this was a minor incident that has become overblown and unfortunately took away from the great effort and dedication shown by the young men who participated in the tournament.

I hope that this will no longer distract from the real issues facing Bethlehem and Northampton County.”

George Lightfoot February 26, 2013 at 01:29 AM
Please, he is seeking office. He is campaigning. He is only doing this becuase it would look really, really bad if he did not. The incident shows his true character. Voters hould be very wary of him.
Kim February 26, 2013 at 02:30 AM
I still give him credit for apologizing though. We can put things to rest now. Maybe it will quiet all those voices claiming the ref overreacted and that all refs are on power trips!
Hugh Gallagher February 26, 2013 at 07:51 AM
After an indiscretion, he did the right thing. Everybody can move on. Even the "sheeple" who criticized the ref.
debbie February 26, 2013 at 10:12 AM
have to give the mayor respect. He did the right thing. A majority of refs are still on a power trip. They get paid and thats all a majority are interested in. At least put my words in quotations. On to the next
Mean Mom February 26, 2013 at 12:06 PM
He apologized because it was the right thing to do for someone in his position. Only he knows if he meant it and I doubt that. Loud mouth sports dad good for the ref!
Hugh Gallagher February 26, 2013 at 12:09 PM
"on to the next" but still criticzing the refs? He did the wrong thing but THEN did the "right thing"
Randy McFarland February 26, 2013 at 01:27 PM
I Agree. Personally I believe people with obsessions for high school sports need help. It is a game. This includes the coaches. Seriously how many kids on a high school level will become pros in that sport. I have seen coaches in our area create low back problems for life. As far as the parents being obsessed give me a break and grow up.
John Fox February 26, 2013 at 02:34 PM
This whole story is stupid, who cares? I know I don't care that he got ejected and I care even less that he apologized. If anything I am more annoyed that he made the apology public, why couldn't the apology just be between the two gentleman and let this ridiculous story just go away?
Ron Beitler February 26, 2013 at 03:17 PM
linen23 February 26, 2013 at 03:43 PM
Understanding that most of us were not there to witness event; I could care less if he is a career politician or a private citizen. His actions were not acceptable. The Mayor apologized, which is admitting "guilt". I would agree the apology need not be public. The people that say "big deal, move on" are most likely the "overbearing, fruit nut, my kid's the best (minus his nut and seafood allergy, asthma and ADHD) parents.
Michele K February 26, 2013 at 03:52 PM
I agree with Kim. It's nice to see a parent first and foremost putting a good example out there of admitting wrong and apologizing for it. I'm sure that referee has heard and seen worse, but it was nice of the mayor to reach out to him and to show the kids that his actions weren't appropriate. Yes, re-election and all that, but still - adults need to be better examples these days.
Matt L. February 26, 2013 at 04:43 PM
Yelling at ref's is a part of sports in America. Did he attack the ref? Did he curse at or threaten? Folks "outraged" at this probably think every kid should get a trophy......
GREG L February 26, 2013 at 06:03 PM
I agree. Much ado over nothing here. However, I do think that people need to be better behaved generally at sports events. My son is involved in sports and I've seen too many instances of fans going overboard and almost coming to fisticuffs. This incident doesn't appear to have gone that far but it's nearly come to a situation where I'd prefer to sit by myself as you never know what might jump off. The ref probably had to deal with a bunch of craziness in some other match and decided not to let this one get out of control.
debbie February 26, 2013 at 06:31 PM
The Mayor was the Professional in all this. Weither he was right or wrong. I never said the Mayor was wrong.
debbie February 26, 2013 at 06:38 PM
well thanks....it was fun. I'm sure we will all meet again at some sporting event....go have fun....
SueM February 26, 2013 at 09:04 PM
No need to repeat the same thing you've been saying all along...ref bad...mayor good! You really just can't help yourself can you? Can we ban the phrase "power trip" ?
Brian King February 26, 2013 at 10:13 PM
There are too many prima donnas referees in today’s youth sports. Certain officials only care about the tax free dollar they are making. Once they put on the striped shirt, the ego trip of power occurs. A parent or a fan cannot criticize or they might get offended. There were many times I expressed my opinion on the referee’s decision, but after the event, I forget about it. Some referees will hold a grudge against you or your child. Most fans state their displeasure by questioning the calls without any threats to the officials. Fans get upset when the officials are inconsistent and arrogant. Maybe officials need to start claiming their income for tax purposes. This might weed out some of the poor officiating in the future.
GREG L February 26, 2013 at 10:23 PM
I'd have to say that I've witnessed ref's holding grudges also, but I have to say that I've observed more fans misbehaving than ref's. No, ref's aren't perfect and they will miss some calls but oftentimes fan displeasure at ref's or players can just go overboard.
Staberdearth March 03, 2013 at 12:20 PM
" Maybe officials need to start claiming their income for tax purposes. This might weed out some of the poor officiating in the future." HUH?


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