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Where are all the heroes hiding? Why are the role models no longer on a roll? In a time when young athletes need someone to look up to, the pedestals seem empty.

Ask McKinley swimmer Tommy Seay the key to winning the 50 meters and he has an immediate answer. Without hesitation Holy Angels point guard Jamie Donnelly can tell you how to attack a zone.

But ask these local high school athletes, and others like them, which of today's professional athletes they admire, and they're stumped.

"That's difficult," said Seay. "I can't really think of one right off."

"Can I say my uncle?" asked Donnelly. "He really taught me everything I know about basketball."

It never used to be an issue. High school athletes from a generation ago had a world of professional athletes to identify with. And they didn't have to look far with many of the greats on the rosters of the Buffalo Sabres, Buffalo Bills and the former Buffalo Braves of the NBA.

Every kid who ever split two defenders and scored a goal was doing it like Gil Perreault. And with Bob McAdoo and Perreault starring for the Braves and Sabres, who's favorite number wasn't 11?

The NBA had Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Larry Bird, Magic (Earvin Johnson) and Dr. J (Julius Erving).

The NFL countered with greats such as Walter Payton, Joe Montana, Jim Brown, Fran Tarkenton, Ray Nitschke and Johnny Unitas.

The NHL offered the enduring careers of Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Gordie Howe, Marcel Dionne and Bobby Hull.

How about baseball's Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench and Willie Mays?

These athletes embraced their responsibility of role models on their way to Hall of Fame careers. It was shocking, not commonplace, if a big-name athlete had a brush with the law. And there was no defiance of authority simply for the sake of defiance.

"It's kind of like there's people (heroes) out there, but they have their flaws and stuff," said Timon/St. Jude basketball player Corey Herring. "I kind of like Kevin Garnett (of the Minnesota Timberwolves), but I try to build my own character. . . . You got to start somewhere. I feed off my friends coming to my games. Stuff like that makes my day. My friends are like family to me."

Young athletes get mixed signals when convicted rapist and ear-chomper Mike Tyson is allowed to continue to box and gets standing ovations when he steps in the ring. Think bad boy Dennis Rodman has anything to do with the current fad of body piercing and tattooing?

Not even the sport of figure skating escapes scandal after the arrest of Olympic champion Oksana Baiul for drunken driving and underage drinking after a high-speed car crash. Baseball's Wil Cordero was charged with beating his wife a few years ago. He'll be at spring training when camps open this month.

Today's high school athletes are cautious about who they emulate.

At a recent indoor track meet, Sweet Home's Aaron Mitchell thought for a moment and said: "I do admire C.J. Hunter. He's an exceptional shot putter. Of course he wasn't a perfect role model either because of the whole (steroid) scandal. But he worked hard to get where he is."

Duke-bound Tirana McDermott, a two-time state sprint champion from Jamestown, said she admires all female athletes because "they've had to prove themselves over and over again. I'm trying to show people even in my community what can be accomplished."

Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine just released a survey where 3,500 kids voted on their favorite athletes. Michael Jordan, who hasn't worn an NBA uniform in three years, was the No. 1 male. He was followed by Tiger Woods, Ken Griffey Jr., Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant. The top females were Mia Hamm, Cynthia Cooper, Marion Jones, Venus Williams and Sheryl Swoopes.

"Personally, I like Sheryl Swoopes (of the Houston Comets)," said Sally Shuster, a guard on Sacred Heart's basketball team. "She can basically do anything while playing basketball. She's all over the court hustling. I've always grown up admiring her."

Some teens are gravitating to Olympic athletes for role models.

Pat Kapperman of Williamsville North likes Michael Johnson because they both run the 400 meters.

"I like watching the Olympics because it's mostly amateur athletes who are trying to come up in the world. That's kind of what we're aspiring to do to even though it's a heck of a goal," he said.

Alyissa Hasan of Williamsville South, the Section VI record-holder in the long jump, said she admires "anyone's who's faster than me. Marion Jones, definitely. The Olympics gave me so much drive, and gets me thinking like maybe in a couple years I'll be out there doing that."

And if those dream ever do come true, there's plenty of room on top of the pedestals.

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