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Tens of millions needed to turn around city schools sports program

McKinley High School

To the best of the knowledge of Buffalo schools sports leaders, in 2016 three city athletes won scholarships to Division One or Division Two schools. They say the low number is the result of weak academic rules, bad facilities and a shortage of high-quality coaches.It's going to take millions of dollars and potentially tens of millions of dollars to turn the district sports program around. That's the image presented to the school board Wednesday night, led by Athletic Director Aubrey Lloyd.

A consultant paid by Say Yes says the facilities are terrible and can't compare to competing sports teams in the suburbs. Just bringing up the fields to suburban level would cost nearly $7 million dollars. Say Yes hired former National Football League executive Greg Gabriel to look at the facilities and the problems.

"I saw Burgard practice, I saw Hutch-Tech practice, I went over and watched Riverside practice and then I saw Bennett practice over at McCarthy, all of which are the facilities on which they practice are terrible for any high school kid to practice in," he said.

The school board was shown photographs of practice facilities which featured patchy grass and mud and no showers or locker rooms, while suburban high schools have fields for each sport, many with artificial turf fields and enough locker rooms for each sport. Board Member Larry Quinn says problems are across the board and need to be addressed.

"Our facilities are very, very below grade, but we also have capacity issues, so, when you are talking about the fall, you've got conflict between soccer and football," he said. "For those that don't know, the Bennett High School football team doesn't practice at All-High field, they go over to McCarthy Park on a field that's not really a football field."

Quinn wants the Buffalo Teachers Federation to agree to ease rules requiring teachers to be coaches, based on seniority. Lloyd says there has to be better education for students in earlier grades so they can have a shot at those college scholarships.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond
District Athletic Director Aubrey Lloyd speaks before the Buffalo School Board.

"We need to target our student athletes in the seventh and eighth grade, because in the information about the NCAA so they are aware of the courses they need to take," he said. "What happens in our school district is that student athletes, as Dr. Cash mentioned, and by their sophomore or junior year they find they are many credits short, making them ineligible and they have to catch up."

Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash wants a larger staff in City Hall or in the buildings for better management of sports teams.

In the really expensive category, Lloyd says the program needs a large indoor field house for sports teams in bad weather and is planning a fund-raising drive to come up with the money. There isn't yet a site for that athletic dream.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.