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Prep Talk: Bennett’s rich sports history near end

The team has at least three more games left, maybe more depending on how the postseason plays out. The only thing that’s certain: the clock is ticking on the Tigers, starting with Friday night’s heavyweight nonleague clash at All High Stadium against Orchard Park.

“Bennett will go away,” said Lloyd, noting the district’s plan is to continue adding freshmen classes until CATS at Bennett has grades 9-12 in its building. “If we can preserve the Bennett name somehow that would be cool. There’s no solid decision as to what’s going to be done with Bennett as of today.”

In case one has forgotten, Bennett has a rich sports tradition as its athletic legends include basketball Hall of Famer Bob Lanier, and Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Famers Don Gilbert (a Canadian Football League player), Larry Veronica, basketball star Curtis Aiken and former football standout and Rich Products founder Robert E. Rich Sr.

Another fast fact: Bennett’s boys basketball team back in 2001 became the first Western New York squad to beat the-then nearly “invincible” new Niagara Falls Wolverines during a sectional final at Buffalo State.

“It’s kind of sad,” said senior, four-year starter and two-time All-Western New York pick Isaiah McDuffie. “We’re trying to go out on top so that the memory of the last Bennett team can be a great one.”

The best scenario: The Tigers keep on winning during the postseason to achieve that end. Of course that’s easier said than done since Class A is filled with plenty of contenders and no clear-cut favorite.

Bennett (4-1) is one of four teams in Class A South with just one league loss vying for the division title (the others are South Park, McKinley and West Seneca East). The Tigers could either win the division or be the fourth seed depending on how things play out the next two weeks (they only have one league game left, while the other three have two each). Still, the two-time Section VI finalists in two different classifications (B and C) remain ambitious.

“If we can get to The Ralph this year, it would be an amazing story because we would have made The Ralph three years consecutively in three different classes,” coach Steve McDuffie said.

Veronica said the Bennett alumni recently asked him to help it formulate a plan to present to the district so that athletics becomes a part of the rebooted school. Veronica hasn’t talked with anyone in the district but suggests offering junior varsity options in sports other than football, since class sizes figure to be small, and build its way back up to being able to field varsity teams. Any students interested in playing football would still be able to do so with whichever school the “new” Bennett winds up joining in a merger.

“I hope the committee and board of education and director of physical education realize how important the athletic program is to the students, for one attracting them and two, giving them a rally point,” Veronica said.

In other words, athletics is important toward fostering school pride.

“It would be great to see the Bennett name (used with the rebooted school in the future) because there is too much tradition to see it gone,” Isaiah McDuffie said.

After shocks

A sidebar to Bennett football’s final days is what happens with the junior varsity team consisting of more than 40 players? Also, what happens to the nine, non-seniors currently on the Tigers, non-Bennett students who proudly don the school’s blue and orange colors?

Their fates should be determined by Nov. 30, the deadline for districts with merged football programs to submit paperwork for their proposed combined teams for the 2017 season to Section VI.

Lloyd has already been engaged in preliminary meetings with section football and school district officials to form a plan of attack. The section wants to avoid last year’s troublesome situation in which merged schools appealing a section committee’s decision to reclassify them based on past success instead of enrollment numbers held up the scheduling process until nearly the end of the spring sports season.

Buffalo’s plan also has to take into account the reboot at Lafayette as well as whatever the district has in store for Bennett. There are currently 16 high schools in Buffalo.

The future could include just five host schools for football within the Buffalo Public Schools system. Merged teams are not allowed to feature more than four combined schools. An exception was made this year for Riverside, which draws from five schools, but its numbers are still so low that it can’t field a junior varsity team.

“We know the six programs we have but we don’t know what it will look (like),” Lloyd said. “Will Middle Early College emerge as a new program? That’s what we’ll discuss next because we have a chance to align some new programs.”

The district’s other football programs include South Park, Hutch-Tech, McKinley and Burgard.

Around the halls

• Kenmore field hockey will wear pink jerseys one more time this month in honor of October being Breast Cancer Awareness month. The Devil Dogs will don the special uniforms Tuesday for its afternoon home game against Wilson.

• The annual Super Monday Boys Soccer Tournament is scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m. Monday at Sweet Home’s Bob Barczak Stadium. The event features a quadruple-header of games featuring some of the area’s top teams. The first game puts Nichols against Orchard Park. At 2 p.m., I-Prep faces St. Francis. Canisius versus East Aurora follows at 4:30. The primetime game at 7 pits St. Joe’s against Sweet Home.

Canisius-MEC at MLK

The matchups in the annual MLK Classic at City Honors have been set and there’s one notable difference in the two-day showcase tournament’s slate.

Canisius will once again play in the marquee game of the tournament but it won’t be against old friend McKinley, according to Lloyd. Instead, Canisius, the two-time reigning state Catholic Class A champion, will face defending New York State Public Schools Athletic Association Class C champion Middle Early College to close out the event Jan. 14.

Other games include McKinley facing Amherst, East playing Cardinal O’Hara, Tapestry against Hutch-Tech, Olmsted against Sweet Home, I-Prep at Grover against Maritime and City Honors facing JFK.

Game times will be announced at a later date. The event starts Jan. 13.


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