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Big sports names participate in Buffalo school athletics task force

What do Buffalo Bills Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure, quarterback J.P. Losman, Stanley Cup winner Kevyn Adams, Olympic medal swimmer Gary Hall and PGA golfer Dudley Hart have in common?

They’re all part of a new task force the Buffalo School Board created to recommend changes for the district’s high school athletic programs.

The Buffalo School Board empaneled the task force last week and asked the members to review the district’s various sports offerings and make recommendations by May about changes to elevate the city’s sports offerings and give more students the chance to participate.

So far, nearly 30 task force members have been appointed, ranging from local college coaches, local running store and gym owners to professional athletes well known to many Buffalo sports fans.

Many of the task force members are friends – or friends of friends – of School Board member Larry Quinn, whose personal interest in sports and status as a former partner in the Buffalo Sabres led him to create the Interscholastic Athletics Task Force. Some task force members are also already involved with the district athletic program in some way.

“I’m sure it won’t work exactly the way I think it will, but we’ll figure it out,” Quinn said. “If someone has an athletic gift that is coming to our schools, we owe it to them to give them a way to participate.”

The task force is expected to partner with an executive committee of Buffalo Public Schools administrators to take a comprehensive look at district athletics. Among the tasks, according to Quinn:

• Conducting a survey of current student participation and academic outcomes for existing student athletes, as well as eligibility requirements for current players, and existing policies regarding the use of school district athletic facilities.

• Reviewing the existing athletic programs and making recommendations on how programs could be improved.

• Possibly proposing new or “emerging” opportunities for interscholastic athletics in the district, including changes to eligibility requirements, the establishment of new programs and the demotion of weaker sports to instructional programs.

The task force is expected to complete its work by mid-May, with Quinn ambitiously hoping many of the task force’s recommendations could be implemented as soon as next school year.

Athletic offerings in Buffalo Public Schools vary greatly. Not all high schools have teams in all available district sports. While some athletic facilities are excellent, many would be considered inferior to their suburban counterparts.

The district tends to be competitive in basketball, and is increasingly competitive in football thanks to school mergers and junior varsity programs. But district teams are more uneven in soccer, volleyball, track and cross country, and generally weaker in sports like baseball, softball and swimming.

Jon Dandes, Buffalo Bisons president and president of the Buffalo Public Schools Foundation, said he expects the task force will look at how district athletic programs are funded, managed and executed, and include a review of district facilities, equipment and coaching.

“Obviously, there will be more to tell once we get moving on it,” said Dandes, who is also the point person for Rich Products’ contributions on behalf of the Bisons to the district’s baseball program.

Tony Christiano, the Delaware Soccer Club’s vice president of travel soccer, said he believes opportunities exist to improve and expand soccer in the school district and wants to bring in top soccer people to work with him on the task force.

“I think it could use some stronger direction from people who’ve played the game and coached at high levels,” he said.

Quinn has, and is still seeking, experienced people to serve on the task force. He has a list of names for sports like football, basketball, baseball, golf and hockey – a sport the district does not currently sponsor – but is thin in areas like tennis, lacrosse, softball and bowling.

Quinn’s personal thoughts on how the school district’s athletic programs could be revamped represent a departure from the way programs operate now.

For instance, Quinn doesn’t believe in requiring students to meet a fixed academic standard before being allowed to play district sports, especially since in some high schools a majority of students enter with below-average academic skills. Instead, he thinks students should be allowed to participate in sports as long as they are working on a concrete plan to get their academic work up to grade level.

He also believes district sport eligibility should be expanded to include students who are home schooled or attend charter schools. He added, however, that he will wait to see whatever the task force recommends after they review the current status of district sports.

“Here’s what is,” Quinn said. “What can it be?”

News Staff Reporter Miguel Rodriguez contributed to this story. To see a list of the current members of the Buffalo Public Schools Interscholastic Athletics Task Force, visit the School Zone blog at www.buffalonews.com/schoolzone email: stan@buffnews.com