It pays to be safe and smart, as the Cheektowaga football program discovered on Wednesday.
The Warriors were among the 10 recipients of a $10,000 equipment grant as part of Riddell's Smarter Football Program. The competition was open to programs as far northwest as Alaska and south as Florida. More than 700 teams from various levels applied for the grant.
Three high schools, two middle schools, a club organization, a prep school and three youth programs each earned a portion of the $100,000 grant from the renowned football company to provide new protective gear for the players on their teams.
Winners were chosen based on a team's commitment "to player safety, personal and team development and overall advancement of the sport, on and off the field."
"It was pretty exciting news. We applied for it but didn't expect anything from it," Warriors coach Mike Fatta said.
According to a company spokeswoman in an email: "Cheektowaga’s coach Fatta has implemented 'smarter' tactics on and off the field, participating in player safety clinics, sports nutrition seminars, and player-specific development, in addition to providing weekly team dinners to promote family and commitment."
"It comes as a pleasant surprise (to be selected)," Cheektowaga athletic director Brian Hickson said, "but certainly there's a lot of need in our program. ... It's a really awesome opportunity."
Hickson and Fatta said Kristin Bartnik – mother of recently graduate and first team All-Western New York quarterback Eric – crafted the letter on the program's behalf to the football company.
"It was just an email I sent to her," Fatta said. "I asked if she had time to look into this and she did the diligence of filling out the grant, telling them who we are and what we're about. If it wasn't for that we wouldn't have won the award."
Hickson said the money will help with the program's goal of replacing old helmets.
Cheektowaga entered this season looking to reach its fourth straight Section VI Claass B final. It reached the state semifinals in 2014 and 2015.
The Warriors, 5-1, are tied for the Class B-1 Division lead with rival Maryvale. The teams meet at Maryvale on Friday.