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Wilson Foundation awards $1.4 million to Girls in Sports program

Playing sports changed Mary Wilson's life, and now she wants to use sports to help change other girls' lives.

The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation has granted $1.4 million to expand the Western New York Girls in Sports program, which was founded by Mary Wilson and is administered by the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County. The program is designed to get girls involved in sports, and the money will allow the program to reach more of those girls in a wider geographic area. It will also extend the program year-round so girls have more opportunities to play sports.

The announcement of the grant was made at the program's twice-yearly event, which brought nearly 200 girls to New Era Field's ADPRO Sports training facility to receive half a day of sports instruction from a host of other female athletes, including the Buffalo State College's women's soccer team and the University at Buffalo women's basketball team. The event is held in coordination with the United Way, the Girl Scouts of Western New York, Buffalo Public Schools and Lackawanna Central Schools. Girls ages 9 to 12 visit different stations and try out activities like sports from yoga and agility exercises, and rowing and golf.

Wilson is an avid golf and tennis player. She said having her husband's support of the program, and the Pegulas' blessing to use the field house for the event, makes the day more exciting and meaningful for the girls, and lends authenticity to the program's mission.

"You have some of the most important people in Buffalo saying it's important for girls to play sports," Wilson said.

Wilson said the Girls in Sports field day is her "most favorite day of the year."

She said she can't overstate the importance of sports in a girl's life. Research from the foundation shows just how important sports can be when it comes to mental and physical health, academic success and social well being. But it also found that only 14 percent of girls in Western New York are physically active for an hour or more per day, which is what the Center for Disease Control recommends. The report includes suggestions for keeping kids active, such as strengthening sports leagues, as well as introducing kids to a variety of sports so they stay interested and are less likely to get injured.

The United Ways of Allegany County, working with Houghton College; Cattaraugus County, working with St. Bonaventure University; Greater Niagara, working with Niagara University; Northern Chautauqua County, working with the State University of New York at Fredonia and Southern Chautauqua County, working with Jamestown Community College and the local American Association of University Women affiliate will also partner to administer the program.



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