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Ralph C. Wilson Jr., who last week endowed a $500,000 sports scholarship at Canisius College, said the gift was an academic first for him.

"I haven't given gifts to other colleges and universities," the Buffalo Bills owner noted. "Canisius is the only one."

In a phone interview, Wilson explained that his choice had a lot to do with the late Very Rev. James M. Demske, president of Canisius from 1966 to 1993.

"I got to know Father Demske very well -- I had a lot of admiration and respect for him," Wilson recalled. "When Canisius approached me about a scholarship, to help the school out, I thought it would be a good school to try to assist.

"I've been associated with Western New York and Buffalo for 36 years, about half my life, and I wanted to do something for the young people in the area in the sports field, which I'm basically interested in -- and that's what I did."

Wilson stressed that the scholarship, which will benefit four student athletes annually beginning this fall, "will not be for any particular sport."

"I'm interested in all sports, not just football," he said. "I've been going to baseball, hockey and basketball games, tennis and golf all my life.

"I'm very happy to be able to make this contribution to an outstanding institution like Canisius for what I think is a good cause, in the area and in the country.

"I think it's very, very important that young people in school have something to be interested in that is a diversion from their books."

Will he get to know Canisius' Wilson Scholarship athletes?

"I hope so -- along the way," he said. "I'd like to go to some of their games. I have a pretty busy schedule, but I do spend a lot of time in Buffalo with the Bills, particularly the last six months of the year."

Although the college issued broad criteria Wednesday for the Wilson Scholarship -- including that a student athlete be in good academic standing at Canisius -- Wilson said he thought the scholarship would be for young students graduating from high schools in the Buffalo area.

He also reminisced about a Canisius football game he attended "three or four years ago" with Father Demske.

"I thought I was a rabid football fan," Wilson said. "But Father Demske was up and down in his seat, yelling and cheering. . . . He was even more rabid than I am."

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