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The pros offer help improving athletics in Buffalo schools

Buffalo Public Schools officials aren't only trying to overhaul academics.

They're revamping the district's athletics program, too, and will get an assist from some high-powered partners.

Pegula Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of Buffalo Bills and Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, and ADPRO Sports, the locally based company that produces custom uniforms, have pledged their help in ratcheting up district sports to another level.

That could take a variety of forms, including using their vast network of resources to provide student mentors and talk to students about eligibility requirements for college athletics. They also could help the district grow its athletic offerings, better train high school coaches, market its high school teams or provide student athletes with "shadowing" opportunities within the sports management company, which also operates the Buffalo Marriott HarborCenter.

"One thing that's important to note is that within the umbrella of Pegula Sports and Entertainment there's 22 properties," said Russ Brandon, managing partner and president of the company. "I know we focus greatly on the Bills and Sabres, but I think the most exciting component of this whole program is the opportunities for these young people to be involved, whether it's with what we're doing at the Marriott to working the equipment department at the Bills to them working community relations on some of the other activities that we have ."

The organization has put the Buffalo Public Schools on the radar of its pro players, too.

"When we met with the players at the Buffalo Bills over the last few months, one of the things that has stood out more than anything is how they want to impact and be a part of the Buffalo Public School system," Brandon said. "I can tell you unequivocally that is the No. 1 initiative of the players on that team, so we're looking forward to being part of that."

"It isn’t just helping the student athletes, but it's helping the coaches coach," said Ron Raccuia, president of ADPRO Sports, "teaching them how to be better coaches, better mentors, better leaders."

The two organizations reached out to the Buffalo Public Schools when they learned of the district's plan to upgrade its athletics, said David Mauricio, chief of  strategic alignment and innovation for the school district.

"They came to us and asked for a meeting," Mauricio said.

Brandon and Raccuia, who has a long relationship with Buffalo schools, met with the Board of Education last week to reaffirm their commitment.

"They are all in," said Superintendent Kriner Cash.

The district is in the early stages of trying to raise the bar for its athletic program, which includes:

  • Raising the bar for athletes in the classroom. The district is piloting an athletic eligibility process with a handful of teams at several of its high schools before crafting a districtwide policy that addresses athletics, attendance and athletes' academics. "The first thing we had to do is to make sure we had high student achievement and college readiness, not just a situation where you come and you play a sport and as soon as the season is over you're left out there trying to stay in school, ineligible or unable to pursue your dreams," Cash said.
  • Upgrading athletic facilities. The district is preparing a grant application to the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation that would pay for a facilities study. That can then be used to ask the foundation for an even larger sum to improve a dozen school district and City of Buffalo athletic fields, as well as help pay for an indoor fieldhouse.
  • Making Buffalo teams more competitive. That includes adding new sports, such as lacrosse and crew; adding assistant coaches to teams; and providing small, 14-passenger shuttle buses at each high school to transport athletes to and from practices. One of the concerns of the district has been the safety of its athletes as they travel through some city neighborhoods to get to and from practice.
  • Better coaching. Part of the negotiations in last year's teacher contract talks was focused on hiring the most qualified coaches as opposed to hiring them based on teacher seniority. As part of that effort, the district has developed a committee process to hire coaches, while also working on an evaluation process.
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