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OFFICIALS SEEK OVERHAUL OF SPORTS PROGRAM

There is a move afoot on the Board of Education to overhaul the city's interscholastic sports program, which one board member has described as a "disgrace."

High school sports have been withering for years because of a lack of funding and what some consider poor supervision.

Administrators and the Board of Education have long acknowledged shortcomings but done little to correct them.

Jan Peters, who represents the Central District on the School Board, recently challenged her colleagues and Superintendent James Harris to revamp the interscholastic sports program. She criticized the district for its lack of support and found several allies on the board.

"I think the sports (programs) we have are really a disgrace," said At-Large Board Member James Williams.

"I think we've abdicated our responsibilities in athletics," added Jack Coyle of the Park District.

Warren Golloway, president of Operation PUSH, said a review is overdue.

"The state of city athletics is terrible, from coaching to facilities to making sure athletes are keeping their grades up," he said. "Kids aren't being taught the game, they're not being taught the art of team play, and they're not being pushed academically."

Ms. Peters said she's received numerous complaints from parents about the state of interscholastic sports programs, which have been reinforced by a report from a volunteer basketball coach at Hutchinson-Central Technical Institute that details shortcomings in the city's varsity basketball program.

Studies have shown that high school sports programs can be of particular benefit in urban districts. They've shown a link between academic achievement and extracurricular activities, including sports. School sports also have been shown to help build school spirit and identity, which in turn can influence attendance and the decision of some students to stay in school.

It therefore wasn't coincidence when Ms. Peters raised the subject of interscholastic athletics during a recent School Board conversation about declining attendance, especially at the high school level. The state of the district's athletic programs hasn't helped, board members said.

There are a couple of fundamental problems with the sports program, including inadequate facilities and the lack of junior varsity teams.

While Buffalo schools only operate varsity programs, most suburban districts also run junior varsity, and often freshman or "modified" programs that help build skills and introduce athletes to the district's program.

Buffalo athletic facilities also are lagging.

"Locker rooms have no working showers (and) most do not have toilets either," Coleman noted in his report on the basketball program.

He also noted problems with the way basketball games are scheduled. The Yale Cup season forces teams to play two to three times a week over a short period of time to make up for a late season start. Most games are scheduled for 3:30 p.m., immediately after school, often before sparse crowds.

"If the board wanted to be any more anti-parent or anti-family-involvement, they could hardly find a more effective format," Coleman wrote in his report.

Williams charged that games are scheduled for the convenience of district employees rather than the benefit of players, students or parents.

"There's no reason to have basketball games at 3:30 in the afternoon," he said.

Supervision is one issue. Money is another.

The district spends $1 per student for interscholastic sports vs. $3 spent by suburban districts.

District spending on sports has been stalled for years and stands at $754,731 for the current school year. By comparison, the county's second largest district, Williamsville, has budgeted $996,394. Buffalo's enrollment is four times greater than Williamsville.

"If we really do believe sports is important, we need to find the resources," Ms. Peters said.

She wants the district to establish a task force to examine the athletics program and recommend changes. The business community, she said, has to be part of the solution.

"I see a large role for the private sector in terms of support," she said.

Harris wants to wait to tackle the issue, noting the large number of studies and initiatives the district has undertaken the past year.

"I ask the board's patience," he told members at the most recent meeting. "Right now we're just saturated."

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