Student athletes in the Buffalo Public Schools often practice and compete in facilities lacking locker rooms, equipment and showers.
Their coaches are hired based on teaching seniority, not experience in the sport.
And because the district does not always enforce its academic eligibility rules, some talented athletes leave high school lacking the skills they need to get into college.
Now, Buffalo school officials want to change that. They propose a massive upgrade of its athletic facilities so that city students have access to the same caliber programs offered in the suburbs, while also retooling academic standards to make sure the athletes are learning more than just sports.
“It’s really the ultimate equity issue to me,” said Board Member Larry Quinn. “This is about making it equal to someone who lives in the suburbs, or goes to a private school.”
Several board members have raised concerns that subpar facilities hinder students’ athletic experiences. They say that student athletes practice and compete on inferior playing fields, in some places with no access to basic amenities like showers.
That hurts students’ self-esteem and enthusiasm, board members said, noting that the athletic programs should serve as an enticement to engage students in their schools and education.
The district brought in an expert with 30 years experience working with the National Football League to assess its facilities. That consultant reaffirmed that the district’s athletic facilities are far inferior to those in other districts. For example, the South Park High School football team, which won the state championship in 2015, practices on a grassy field near the school because it lacks a formal facility.
“It’s a completely different world when we leave Buffalo and go to these other schools,” said Aubrey Lloyd, the district’s athletic director.
There are other issues that some board members argue also work against students, and that includes loose rules for academic eligibility.
Those standards do exist, board members say, but are not codified in policy and, as a result, aren’t consistently enforced. And since the district does not enforce its academic eligibility standards, students who are not successful in the classroom sometimes have a hard time getting into college despite their athletic abilities.
Board members want to make better use of sports as leverage to prompt student athletes to meet consistently enforced academic standards so that they are ready for college and beyond.
District officials discussing the issue at a board workshop this week estimate that revamping the facilities and program will cost about $7 million, and plan to begin exploring possible funding sources.
School leaders have also expressed concerns that athletic coaches are hired based on classroom teaching seniority, not athletic knowledge or experience. That issue has been raised repeatedly by parent and community activists who feel student athletes are being short-changed by not having the best coaches available.
The district plans to have a committee work with the teachers union to change its hiring practices to make sure the most qualified people are in coaching positions.