Ernest “Ernie” Withers has spent a lifetime in wrestling.
And now the sport is giving back.
The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Florida Chapter will honor Withers and others with a Lifetime Service to Wrestling Award during Honors Weekend in September.
A member of the Class of 2020, Withers will be honored Sept. 24-25 at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista in Disney Springs.
“It’s quite an honor,” the Bradenton resident said. “I’m quite humbled to receive the award.”
A long-time wrestling official, Withers was nominated by some heavyweights in the sport, including Manatee High coach Andy Gugliemini, former Sarasota High coach Ron Jones, former Miami-Dade College coach Rick Tucci and Walt Allison, an official when Withers wrestled.
“I had a lot of support,” said Withers, who was nominated on the first ballot.
Born in Ohio, Withers moved to Long Island, New York, where he began wrestling at Ward Melville High School.
He got into the sport watching his older brothers Floyd, who wrestled at Rutgers University, and Jim, compete in the sport.
From there, Ernie went to Miami-Dade College in Miami, where he wrestled for Tucci, now a teacher at USA Wrestling.
Withers also was a member of the University of South Florida Wrestling Club.
He later got into officiating in 1989 with the Sunshine Wrestling Association that serviced high schools in Sarasota, Manatee and St. Petersburg for 21 years.
He estimated he worked six or seven FHSAA State Finals, 15 regionals and 15 to 18 district meets.
“It’s a very gratifying sport,” Withers said. “It’s nice to be able to give back to the sport. You appreciate the coaches for what they do, the time they spend with their kids.”
Withers also officiated football for a number of years, but said, “Wrestling was my passion.”
He particularly remembers the matches between Gugliemini’s Hurricanes against Jones’ Sailors.
“There has been some great wrestling in the area,” Withers said. “Manatee vs. Sarasota matches were highly contested.”
He last wrestled 10 years ago before a shoulder injury became too painful. Withers since has had both his knees replaced — “Wrestling did take its toll on me,” he said.
Those injuries have since healed and Withers could be looking at a return to the mats.
In the meantime, Withers said he will be honored when Tucci makes the presentation for his induction in September.
The Ernie Withers file• PERSONAL INFO: Ernest “Ernie” Withers has been married to Cindy, a Southeast High graduate, for 43 years. They met at the University of South Florida, where Ernie was part of the club wrestling team. … The couple has three children: Charlie wrestled his freshman year at Southeast High before playing baseball and soccer. He went on to play baseball at Florida College in Temple Terrace; Lisa played soccer at Southeast High; and Rachel attended Booker High and was a theater major. … Ernie and Cindy have eight grandchildren.
• WORK BACKGROUND: Withers has been the general manager of Mercedes Benz of Sarasota, an AutoNation Company, for 10 years and has been in the automotive business for 40 years.
• OTHER INTERESTS: He serves as the Chairman of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, Trustee of the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, Sarasota Salvation Army Advisory Board member, Community Leadership Council member of the University of South Florida, Sarasota County Sheriff Association board member and Manatee County Desoto Historical Society member. Withers is a former Southeast High School Booster club president and a former PTO president for Bashaw Elementary. He has also served in the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs.
Dennis Maffezzoli is the deputy sports editor for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and chief reporter for Sarasota Herald-Tribune and HTpreps covering Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties. Support local journalism by subscribing.