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Winn finds his destiny in a school

Tim Winn was still at St. Bonaventure when his mentor, Paul Grys, offered some profound wisdom.

"Every five years," Grys told him, "you're going to bump into something about yourself that you didn't know."

Five years ago Winn was a successful professional basketball player dreaming of life in the NBA. Now instead of assists, Winn dishes out discipline as the Dean of Students at Sankofa Charter School in the Central Park Plaza.

"This is my true calling," said Winn, 30, who hosted a 3-on-3 basketball tournament for kids at Sankofa on Saturday. "This taps into an emotion deeper than basketball ever could. The fulfillment I get from this job isn't even close when you compare it to basketball."

The former LaSalle High point guard who helped lead the Bonnies to the NCAA Tournament in 2000 is also handing out tough love.

"The kids in my town would rather see the police than see me coming around the corner," said Winn, who still lives in the same East Falls neighborhood in Niagara Falls where he grew up. "I tear them down and build them right back up."

Winn's transformation from Joe Athlete to Joe Clark, the New Jersey principal that inspired the 1989 movie "Lean On Me," was somewhat surprising considering he retired from basketball at the peak of his career. He was an All-ABA pick for the Buffalo Rapids after the 2005-06 season and turned down lucrative offers overseas to become a teacher.

"He's always been a guy who has stepped up and been a leader," said Wendell Giles, the former Bishop Timon and University of Arkansas-Little Rock guard who has known Winn for 15 years. "Being the type of person he is, whether it's sports-related or not, he's going to do well. He's a determined guy, a motivated guy."

Winn's passion for basketball began to wane toward the end of his only season with the Rapids.

"The whole situation was too stressful for me," he said. "I was 29 but I felt like I was 45. I was like, 'This can't be my calling, I have to find out what my niche is.' "

During the season, Winn was a teacher's aide for kindergarten at Stanley G. Falk School in Buffalo, which he said was less taxing than playing basketball. He then started teaching at Niagara Charter when he stumbled upon his destiny. When teachers had trouble with a student, they called Winn to drop the hammer.

"They would say, 'We need to get rid of this kid,' but I was like, 'They don't act that way around me,' " he said.

Winn took what he describes as the "worst kids in the school," and started a Breakfast Club where students would eat breakfast, listen to music and talk about their issues.

"I could identify with them," he said. "I'm from the same neighborhood. Three or four months later, the worst kids in the school become the best behaved kids in the school."

Winn was hired in April at Sankofa, a school plagued with severe discipline problems. Sankofa reportedly had 12-25 referrals to the office per day and 178 suspensions as of late March.

"It was tougher over [at Sankofa] because I'm not from here, so I have to be Joe Clark for real," Winn said. "I have to lay this law down but the seeds have been planted."

A marketing major at Bona, Winn hopes to begin work on his Master's degree at either Buffalo State or Niagara University with the goal of someday become the school superintendent in Buffalo.

"I like being part of missions, I don't want anything easy in life," Winn said. "I turned down Syracuse to come to St. Bonaventure, I turned down overseas deals to play with the pro team here, I turned down the opportunity to continue to play to come and do this. This is like getting to St. Bonaventure my freshman year."


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