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Sacred Heart Sharks get new tank

Finally, Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart has a gymnasium that parallels the success of its basketball program.

The new home of the Sharks is a big and bright, 20,000-square-foot multipurpose athletic center that will serve as a source of pride for decades.

The gym is part of the school’s “Celebrate our Tradition – Build our Future,” a capital campaign that raised $3.5 million for the facility. After clearing hurdles with the town and the surrounding neighborhood, the project became a reality thanks to support from the Board of Directors, administration, alumnae and donors. Ground was broken on Oct. 4, 2013.

Athletic Director Barbara Rooney said the time was right. “Our science labs and library were updated in 2006 and nine new classrooms were built in 2012,” she said. “Building a new athletic center was part of our strategic plan and the last part of the plan to be implemented. This state-of-the art facility will enhance the well-rounded education that we are known for.”

Picone Construction in Clarence built the building, which was designed by Stieglitz Snyder Architecture of Buffalo. The back of the gym that faces Maynard Alley has faux windows on it, which were designed to look like the arched ones on the school building. The touch was added to help address some of the concerns about the aesthetics posed by the neighbors.

A welcoming foyer includes several built-in displays that showcase the trophies and plaques earned by the many championship teams fielded by the all-girls school on Main Street in Eggertsville. A cross of San Damiano (St. Damian) hangs over the double doors that lead into the 9,000-square-foot gym, which seats 500. A shiny hardwood floor is lined for basketball, volleyball, tennis and badminton.

“It’s wonderful. Every time I go in there, I start smiling,” said Hall of Fame coach Sister Maria Pares. “This was built because Sacred Heart Academy valued athletics, my mother played basketball here, all these years there was the value on the total person. This is just part of it.”

The first three rows in the bleachers, a total of 96 seats, have flip-up chair backs. The home and visitors locker rooms have a combined 500 small boxed lockers, one for each student taking PE classes.

The second floor has a fitness center with a generous number of treadmills, stair climbers, a Universal machine and free weights. There’s a dance studio to fulfill arts requirements, office space and a big screen TV that allows for review of game film.

The building’s exterior is bricked on all four sides and was carefully matched with the school building in front. An enclosed walkway connects the two buildings. There are plenty of parking spaces with an easy walk to the front door in the adjoining lot owned by the Benchmark Group.

Sacred Heart has a grade 9-12 enrollment of 496, with tuition and fees of $10,455 a year. The team’s original gym, located within the school, was built in 1930, long before anyone could fathom the boom in girls sports. For years the Sharks played to crowds that consistently flirted with the fire-code limits. It wasn’t until 2002 that they secured Villa Maria College as their home site.

The Sharks are consistent champions of the Monsignor Martin Association. Pares has reason to believe the success will continue in their new surroundings.

“This is the good part about this team,” she said. “You can have individuals out there, but once they start looking for each other, I think with kids, that’s when you have the building of a great team.”

Junior forward Sarah Young is a returning third team all-Western New York selection. She and fellow junior Kathleen Ryan are the only returning starters from last year. Seven players on the roster have varsity experience.

Sacred Heart started the season with a one-point win over Williamsville North in the Cooper-Pastor Tournament, followed by a convincing victory over Tapestry in the historic home opener on Dec. 9.

Other teams in Western New York are anxious to play in the new facility, evidenced by Sacred Heart playing 16 of their 21 regular season games at home.

“It’s a beautiful building and Sister worked so hard for so long to build this place and it’s just such an accomplishment for her, for us, and the entire school,” said Young, who averaged 15.5 points per game last year. “It’s just so great that we finally have a place for us to play.”