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Students get real-world experience with Buffalo Bills

Adam Beilman can hardly believe he's walking on the turf just before kickoff at Ralph Wilson Stadium. He is directing VIP guests of the Buffalo Bills down the tunnel entrance and into a special guest area.

While this experience would be exciting for a person of any age, it is especially thrilling for a high school senior.

Adam is a senior at St. Mary's High School and also a Buffalo Bills Student Leader. The Buffalo Bills Time Warner Cable Student Leaders program is designed to foster leadership and learning about various professions in the business world for high school juniors and seniors.

Chris Lewis, a program director from the Bills' organization for Student Leaders, says: "Tom Donahoe [prior Bills general manager] was a former high school teacher, and when he was here he wanted to do something similar to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers." The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the only other team in the NFL with a program for high school students. That program is limited to game days. "The Bills made it into a leadership program," Lewis said. "There are monthly meetings so students can learn what goes on behind the scenes, and we provide them with promotional items to distribute." During the monthly meetings, guest speakers from the Bills' staff or the community discuss their profession and the leadership involved.
Students in the program can attend four home games, working two games and watching two. While working games, Student Leaders can be seen directing VIP guests onto the field, delivering halftime statistics to the suites, or helping with events specific to the game day. "It can be surreal," said Adam.
Will Mabee, Bills marketing coordinator, was the most recent speaker at the Student Leaders monthly meeting. He explained the creativity sometimes required to fill the seats at the stadium. "Buffalo is the only market in the NFL that has a declining population, so we try and generate revenue from people who live out of town with things like weekend packages where we'll include a tour of the stadium." Other speakers have included radio personalities, team spokesman Scott Berchtold and a representative of United Way of Buffalo and Erie County.
Community service is a large part of the program. There are many opportunities throughout the season to participate, many times involving the NFL players. "Although it was fun to be at the stadium, it was an awesome experience to do the community events", said William Tiemey, a senior at Maryvale High School. "My favorite was Shop with a Bill. It was great to see the look on the kids' faces when they found out they'd be shopping with a Buffalo Bill." Shop With a Bill is a cooperative effort between Dick's Sporting Goods and the Bills, providing low-income children a $175 shopping spree and their own Bills player to help them shop.
This will be fifth year for the Student Leaders program, and Time Warner Cable is now a partner with the Bills, offering a $500 scholarship to a participating student. In previous years, the Bills have received more than 200 applications, and the Bills interview 100 of those, according to Lewis, making this a competitive process. "If you're interested, apply. We're looking for students who take the initiative," he added.
"The program gave me a real good idea of how being a leader can benefit my life in the future," said Williamsville South senior Marc Heintzman. "Where I really see the benefit is in future internships that I may have during college, I'm going in one step ahead of all my peers."

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High school students interested in the Buffalo Bills Time Warner Cable Student Leaders program for 2007-2008 can find an application at buffalobills.com/community. Or call 648-1800. Applications are due by May 18.1

Ryan Brown is a senior at Clarence High School.

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