J.P. Losman owns a luxury box at Ralph Wilson Stadium, as have most of the Buffalo Bills starting quarterbacks of the past decade.
Losman's family, however, sits in the stands, not in the box. Instead, Losman uses the box, which costs about $50,000 a season, to treat schoolchildren to Bills games in a program he started with the Buffalo Public Schools.
About a dozen students from a different Buffalo school are invited to each game to watch the Bills, eat free food and meet with Losman outside the locker room after the game.
Most of the students selected are members of an athletic team at their school. But athletic success has nothing to do with getting picked to go to the game.
"What we did is we took young people who were very positive influences on our sports teams -- girls and guys," said South Park High School athletic director Ken Pope, who escorted students to the Jacksonville game. "We took kids who did well academically, not necessarily the stars. We wanted to give them an experience."
"We picked kids based on responsibility and participation in physical
education," said Kevin Pezzini, a physical education teacher at Herman Badillo Community School. "We picked athletes who are responsible and work hard in school and set a good example."
Losman wants students to get a glimpse of how the other half lives, so to speak. A day in the luxury box is just one small example of a perk that comes from getting a good education and exhibiting leadership.
"We just want to try to educate these kids on the importance of leadership and the importance of school work and not getting caught up in societal norms," Losman said. "I want to try to put things in their head that I wasn't really exposed to [as a child]. I didn't really have anybody to teach me some of these things. I had to go away to college to learn all these things. I'm trying to start putting into their heads right now what's out there -- the opportunities that are there that come from education."
Losman is a product of the Los Angeles public school system. He grew up in Venice, a community of about 40,000 within the L.A. city limits. He did not have a lot of perks growing up. He came from a single-parent home and was one of eight people living in a two-bedroom apartment all through high school.
"I think if I get up there, I have some kind of connection a little bit," Losman said. "They'll give the Buffalo Bills thing a chance for a second. But when they hear me talk, they can see I really did come from something kind of like what they're coming from. I mention a few examples of my life growing up, and they can see 'he never would have known that unless he lived what we're going through.' I try to relate to them and see if I can connect to them in that way. I just want to teach them the importance of education."
The students love the first-class accommodations.
"I thought it was awesome," said Olivia McElrath, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at the Badillo school. "It was fun to be in his suite with my friends. It was fun to see the game from a point of view that I'd never seen before. I had never been to a game before."
"The game kept you on the edge of your seat the whole time," said Josh Rickard, a junior at South Park. "We got pizza, chicken fingers, brownies, cookies, all kinds of things. It's awesome. I'd still take sitting in the stands. I was just happy to go to the game."
"Most of the stars get recognized for something," said South Park's Pope. "We wanted to recognize kids who work hard, do well, are loyal, are at practice every day and maybe aren't getting in the game as much. They loved it."
Losman holds a party for the students at the end of the year and uses the occasion to reinforce the idea of the doors that education opens. As for his family, he says they would rather sit in the stands than the box, anyway.
"My dad, my mom, my uncles -- they want to sit in the cold and feel the environment," he said. "It's part of the game."