Two recent columns in The News telling stories of perseverance despite obstacles and set decades apart should inspire the most cynical among us and affirm once again that this is a tough town.
One story is about the thirst for education among recent immigrant children and their families. These newcomers refuse to allow language barriers and poverty stand in their way. Their no-excuses policy is shared by educators who welcome accountability.
The other story is about fierce determination by a small group of young architects 30 years ago who would accept nothing but the best for Buffalo – even while others wallowed in self-defeat. This small circle of friends pushed and pushed for a downtown baseball stadium. Now it is difficult to imagine the city without the once-named and still often-referred to Pilot Field.
The thread between the two stories, columns published in the same April 12 edition, is determination.
Rod Watson wrote about Our Lady of Black Rock, “a small Catholic school on Peter Street in Buffalo.” Here, students take state tests – administered by willing teachers – not because the kids have to take them. They don’t. Only two students opted out of the state tests last year.
The adults understand that the students must be tested. It helps in measuring children’s educational growth in comparison to their peers. And that is especially important at this school of 176 students where two-thirds are from refugee families. Many of those families arrive in this country speaking few words of English, if any. Ten different languages are spoken at the school.
They are poor. The school, as Watson wrote, has more students than any other being helped by the BISON Children’s Scholarship Fund, the 23-year-old privately financed effort that offers impoverished students a shot at opportunities, same as their more affluent peers.
They work hard. The school’s 20.8 percent proficiency rate outpaced the Buffalo Public Schools’ overall score last year.
It is a good news schools story. There are more stories to tell. One is about baseball, written by columnist Sean Kirst. He tells the story-behind-the-story of Buffalo’s downtown ballpark seen through the eyes of architects Paul Battaglia, Brian Brady and Peter Flynn, who were joined by longtime preservationist Tim Tielman.
The column ran on the day the Buffalo Bisons played their first home game of the season at what is now known as Coca-Cola Field. It had been 30 years to the week, as Kirst wrote, “after the doors opened there for the first time.” The men discussed old days when the ballpark design was being discussed and how the late Peter Nowak, a Buffalo architect, described as “fiery and bearded,” insisted how things should go: “He said ballparks should fit their setting, that they should nestle into the city around them,” Battaglia said.
Nowak was right. He was also right about closing off much of Main Street to traffic, publicly warning that the idea would fail. Nowak predicted desolation and that the mistake would someday cost taxpayers big money to undo. And it has. Cars on Main Street have returned, at a high price.
Buffalo’s jewel of a downtown ballpark had many champion: Mayor Jimmy Griffin, whose statue stands outside the stadium; Bob Rich Jr., chairman of Rich Products, who purchased the 1980s version of the Bisons; then Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, whose administration provided more than half the construction cost of $42 million.
Our Lady of Black Rock. Buffalo’s downtown ballpark. Two good news stories and both about perseverance amid adversity. Buffalo knows something about that. This is a tough town.