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By Keith McShea
For more than a decade, I have written that until the best public schools and private schools start playing nonleague games against each other, Western New York high school football will never be as good as it can be.
One thing that I always hear from those defending Section VI programs' refusal to play teams from the Monsignor Martin Association, from coaches, from fans, from participants in our live chats is:
“Why should we play them when they just want to take our players?”
While I've never really followed that line of logic (or illogic), we'll set that aside for the moment to talk about what happened in Lockport last weekend.
On a Saturday afternoon that couldn't have been more perfect for high school football, St. Joe's beat Lockport, 30-25, in a battle of teams ranked in the top 10 of The News large school poll. It was an outstanding, competitive game with great performances on both sides, played in front of a large crowd of supporters from both schools.
And get this: One of St. Joe's best players is from … (gasp!) … Lockport!
Nigel Davis is a Lockport native who is a junior at St. Joe's. He was an All-WNY second-teamer as a sophomore and he will again be a candidate for top honors. And here was Lockport, scheduling a football game against none other than the school he and his family chose to attend over their own, home district.
No animosity. No whining about how good Lockport would be if Davis was on the team (although that is some understandable fantasy football to think about). The fact that Davis was playing against his hometown team was actually a positive that both sides talked about before the game. Not only Davis, but St. Joe's junior and Newfane resident Tyler Hill, and the players they grew up competing with — or against — would get a chance to go at it on the high school field.
“It was a great opportunity for these guys to play against each other, and that's really what high school sports is supposed to be about,” said Lockport coach Greg Bronson.
I'm going to call a timeout right here: Every administrator, athletic director and coach from a Section VI school that has refused to play a private school in football, you are now directed to read that previous sentence again, out loud.
I asked Bronson that, considering some schools don't schedule these kind of games ostensibly because of a fear of losing players to a private school, if that was an issue for him or for Lockport.
“I want the best for my son and my family and the players on our team, and that's what those parents want for their kids as well,” he said. “If private school … is what they think best suits their needs, then who am I or anybody in Lockport to tell them that they shouldn't be able to do that? I know Nigel's mom has Catholic school background, and if those are the values and the things you want for your children, that's what makes our country as great as it is, that you have that opportunity.”
The National Anthem should have been playing during that last part. And how refreshing. In a season that has seen an above-average total of five Section VI-Monsignor Martin large school matchups, the Lockport-St. Joe's game provided an outstanding example, on many levels, of why Western New York needs more of these games.
McKinley and Bennett this year continued a tradition of city schools playing privates that goes back to the days of the Harvard Cup. In recent years, North Tonawanda, Jamestown and Niagara Falls have played private schools. Small schools have too.
Williamsville South deserves a huge whack on the shoulder pads for becoming the most prominent Erie County program to schedule a private school when it hosted Bishop Timon-St. Jude in a marquee matchup that opened the season.
Everyone else in Class AA and A, you're on the clock. That means you, Orchard Park, Sweet Home, Clarence, Lancaster, Iroquois, Grand Island and everyone else.
There's nothing to fear but a great football game and a great event for students, the community, fans, the media and — oh yeah — the players.
That paranoid thought that playing games like this will lead to players leaving public schools for privates? News flash: It already happens, it has for years, and nonleague games would not change things much, if at all. Private schools have been around for a century in Western New York. Those schools play football. They are not going anywhere.
Another news flash: Section VI schools, you've already won. You get to play for a state championship, the private schools don't. That's because private schools will likely never be allowed into Section VI (nor should they be, because apples should be kept separate from oranges). However, there's no reason to not play such games.
It happens in every other high school sport in Western New York. Canisius and Orchard Park have scheduled a nonleague baseball game for most of the past decade not only because it's a great competition, but because there are so many Orchard Park natives who attend Canisius that it's a chance to have many of those players compete against each other again (just like Nigel Davis in Lockport).
It also happens at lower levels in football. Canisius and Orchard Park play modified football against each other (I was tipped off to this by a well-placed source … it was a big enough deal that my niece was at the game and texted me).
I wrote last year about a kickoff event proposed for 2009 that had support from major sponsors and was willing to be hosted by either the University at Buffalo or the Buffalo Bills. The concept was to have the best public schools square off against private schools. Here's the kicker: Proceeds from the event would have gone to charity.
The public schools said no.
It's time to start saying yes.
There's still plenty of time to start planning that great kickoff event for 2013.

Empire Games set

The Empire State Games appear alive and well and gearing up for their 2013 summer return in Rochester. The private Empire State Sports Foundation held a press event last weekend attended by Michael G. Carey, son of Empire Games founder Gov. Hugh Carey, as well as Montreal Canadiens captain and Rochester native Brian Gionta. Gionta and another Rochester native, soccer superstar Abby Wambach, will serve as honorary members of the ESSF Board of Governors.
The winter games have been sustained in Lake Placid (they will be held Feb. 7-10 in 2013) thanks to a strong local effort after the state dropped the Empire Games program.
The summer games are scheduled for July 24-28 in the Rochester area, with events at Brockport State, Monroe Community College, Roberts Wesleyan College and Geneseo State.
“We are very pleased to host the Empire State Games next summer,” Rochester Mayor Thomas S. Richards said at the event.

Around the halls

• Canisius is No. 1 in the large school football poll this week. It got six first-place votes to St. Joe's four. It should not be that close, based on a simple viewing of the teams' common opponents and overall schedules. I get into detail in my “How The News voted” post at the Prep Talk blog.
• JD Recor, who I wrote about in this space last week, did not play for Bishop Timon-St. Jude in the Tigers' win over Cardinal O'Hara on Saturday. Recor played football for Lancaster as a junior, transferred to Timon midyear in order to play lacrosse for the Tigers (which he did with no problems), filled out paperwork (as did Timon) requesting to play football as a senior upon his transfer last winter, and did not hear anything from the league until he was ruled ineligible after playing games this season.
Recor said he is still waiting to hear the verdict of an appeal he has made to the Monsignor Martin Association. Recor's father has said that the family's next step would be legal action.
Monsignor Martin Association president Brian Kiszewski has not returned calls or emails from The Buffalo News.
• The PrepTalkTV Sunday quote of the week comes from Adam DiMillo, junior standout running back from Bishop Timon-St. Jude, which hosts St. Joe's and Canisius, respectively, the next two weekends at Fitzpatrick Field on Tifft Street:
“The history that has been made there [at Fitzpatrick Field] is phenomenal. You can feel the intensity right when you walk through the gates to get to the field. The fans become a great part of it too, they get into it. If the refs make a bad call, they know they're going to hear about it. The players love playing there, we love trying to make history at that field.”
DiMillo and Timon coach Charlie Comerford, as well as West Seneca East coach Jim Maurino and senior quarterback Andy Smigiera were guests this week. The full, 45-minute show of highlights, analysis and interviews can be seen at buffalonews.com.
• I will host a live chat Thursday night at 9 p.m. at buffalonews.com as we discuss Week Seven of the football season along with any other questions about high school sports or our coverage of them.

email: kmcshea@buffnews.com.