LOCKPORT – The owner of the Lockport Express junior hockey team said this week that he would like to start more teams in lower age groups, but it might be difficult if the Lockport City School District won’t give the players a break on tuition.
Most, but not all, of the Express players are past school age.
“We were the only team in the league that had all local kids,” owner Steve Bueme said of last season’s team.
Bueme has been trying to recruit talent from outside Western New York, and said he has three or four visiting players, including two from Canada, whom he hopes to put in the lineup this season.
That means the players will be “billeted,” staying with local families. And those who are still young enough for school must attend classes, in addition to three practice sessions with the team on weekdays and two or three games on weekends. The team is scheduled to start its 48-game regular season in September, and the playoffs end in March.
Besides the Junior A team, Bueme is starting an 18-and-under team in the North American Prospects Hockey League this season. Next year, he wants to buy franchises in the NAPHL’s 16-and-under and 14-and-under leagues. That means more school-aged players coming to Lockport and possibly going to its schools.
“Unless I get the school aid, I really can’t get kids to come here,” Bueme said. “These leagues are high-end leagues. You get kids from all over the country.”
Like other public schools, Lockport charges tuition to children who don’t live in the district but who want to attend its schools. Currently the tab for a high school student is about $7,500 a year, according to Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley. She said the district’s current policy on charging tuition to nonresidents doesn’t allow for any exceptions.
“We’re exploring all our options,” Bradley said.
Jennifer O. D’Andrea-Terreri, a Lockport resident who intends to host the two Canadian boys playing for the Express this season, said Lockport and most other local public schools have not been approved by the federal government to accept the type of student visa that would allow those players to attend Lockport schools tuition-free. The only one that does, to her knowledge, is Lewiston-Porter. However, many of the region’s private schools are qualified to bring in students on such visas.
Thus, Bueme said one of the players D’Andrea-Terreri intends to billet in her home will be able to attend Canisius High School in Buffalo, because the Toronto boy’s parents can afford it. But that’s not the case for the other player.
Unless the Lockport Board of Education grants a tuition waiver, the player probably won’t be able to play for the Express, D’Andrea-Terreri said.
“I don’t know if the School Board has the ability to waive that fee,” said D’Andrea-Terreri, who addressed the board at its meeting Wednesday.
“They said they were working on it. They said it wouldn’t be a big issue,” Bueme said.
The Express is the main tenant in Cornerstone Arena, Lockport’s new twin-rink ice complex, which opened last fall.