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MSGR. MARTIN OPENS DOORS TO NICHOLS

Three years later, a victory for common sense in Western New York high school sports: The Monsignor Martin Association will welcome the Nichols School beginning with the fall sports of the 2005-2006 season.

Nichols has been operating as an independent since 2002-03. It left the Niagara Frontier League under the assumption that it would enter the Monsignor Martin, only to have the Catholic league refuse it membership by a 14-2-1 vote in January 2002. There were hypocritical claims by Monsignor Martin officials that Nichols would have an "unfair competitive advantage" while some schools held on to antiquated gripes over Nichols' departure from the Monsignor Martin to join the NFL in 1983 (a move made necessary because Monsignor Martin did not have a girls' league at the time).

This time, the vote was a blowout the other way: 14-0 -- with just one school abstaining -- to welcome Nichols.

Some tireless work by league president Brian Kiszewski, who has only held his position since the start of this school year, let the league's athletic directors know that granting Nichols' application would be a good move. ADs then talked with principals, who are the ones that vote.

Understandably, the parties involved are thrilled with the marriage and aren't interested in discussing the league's bumbling in the past.

"I don't know what happened before, this or that," said Kiszewski. "All I know is, since I took over, my goal was to make our league bigger, better and stronger and this is the first step towards doing that, and it's a pretty big one.

"Obviously you're bringing in one of the top programs in Western New York, with high standards, into our league. Nichols has been strong for many, many years. That's just going to make our league stronger and more competitive, no matter what sport, and competition is good."

Nichols' full membership (the Vikings already were part of Monsignor Martin football) strengthens a league that saw Turner-Carroll close in 2003 and Olean Walsh depart (due to the travel burden) this year.

"I don't know what happened in the past -- I'm not even going back there," said Nichols Athletic Director Jack Writer. "The time has come to go forward. This is a great opportunity.

"As an AD, one of the most important things is to be in a league, for scheduling, for continuity, for camaraderie. This gives us home competition, and hopefully some rivalries. And there's a neatness to being on the list in a league -- we would never be in standings, and it's nice to see where you are."

Nichols' new venture will certainly beat trying to develop rivalries with teams in Pennsylvania and Ohio, which is what the Vikings have been doing the last few seasons as a member of the Independent Prep Schools League. "Scheduling is a nightmare when you're not in a league," Writer said.

Nichols will join the league in as many of its sports as possible, Writer said. Monsignor Martin also welcomed Gow School as an associate member (not eligible for league championships) in wrestling and tennis while Immaculata, which became an associate member this season after leaving the league entirely in 2003-2004, will increase its participation with cross country, bowling and badminton.

Kiszewski said the league intends to take a hard look at what teams are currently in what divisions in order to foster the best competition; similarly, Nichols' teams will join divisions in which their programs fit best.

That may mean Viking teams playing in "large school" divisions in some sports and "small school" divisions in others. For example, using this last basketball season as an example, Nichols' powerful girls team would likely have played in the tougher North Division, while the boys team would likely have competed with the league's three small schools for the Class B championship.

When it comes to state competition, Kiszewski said Nichols will compete with its new league rivals for representation in Catholic state championships. That means, for example, that the Vikings' basketball teams could conceivably reach the state Federation championships in Glens Falls as the state Catholic champion. That might be a bit of a misnomer, but the Monsignor Martin Association is allowed to have any private school as a member; Buffalo Seminary and Nardin are not Catholic schools.

Writer pointed out that the private schools already work together through the BISSNET (Buffalo Independent Secondary Schools Network), which Nichols headmaster Rick Bryan is president of.

"We cooperate with the arts, business and technology, why not athletics?" said Writer. "We were the ones on the sidelines, but this is the last part of the puzzle."
e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com