Inspiration was the theme of a two-hour workout session Mary Wilson hosted Saturday for about 250 girls at the Buffalo Bills’ field house in Orchard Park.
The event was part of a program for girls to participate in sports that she started in 2006. It’s a twice-a-year clinic that allows girls ages 9 to 12 from the Buffalo Public Schools to practice a variety of different sports under the supervision of local volunteers.
“Find a sport you’re going to keep playing, and be inspired to stay in sports,” Wilson told the girls at the start of the event. “It’s a great way to have a great life and great fun. I met my husband on the tennis court, and that got me to a lot of football games.”
Wilson is now the owner of the Bills since the death of her husband, Bills founder Ralph C. Wilson Jr. She said her husband eagerly embraced the program once she proposed it to him nine years ago.
“What Ralph wanted people to know is that we care about girls in sports,” Wilson said. “What’s amazing to me is that this is a Saturday, it’s raining, and they’re coming out to play sports. Girls want to play sports. I think organized sports really needs to start at the elementary school level, age 8, 9 up to 12, and carry on into junior high and high school. It just creates so much character.”
The girls spent the afternoon rotating through seven different sports stations, including rowing, basketball, golf, volleyball, soccer, running and tennis.
“One of the things that is incredible to me is the volunteers,” Wilson said. “If I were a 9-year-old and I was working with a University at Buffalo basketball girl and saw how beautiful she was and the personality they have out ... If I was one of those girls, that totally would inspire me to do something, and either get into basketball or something. All these volunteers out here are inspiring these girls.”
Wilson is a former world-class tennis player. In 1976, she participated in the Wimbledon Championships, the world’s most famous major tennis tournament. (She lost in the second round.) She said the program helps motivate girls to want to join teams when they get to the high school level.
“For me it’s about participating,” she said. “It’s not about being great. I hope they participate, even in an intramural program.”
The Bills partner with the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County in organizing the event. The Bills donated $2,000 to each of the groups that brought volunteers to the field house. They included the West Side Rowing Club, the First Tee of Western New York golf program, the Buffalo Soccer Club, the Girls on the Run character-development program, the University at Buffalo, Canisius College and Medaille College.
Wilson did not address any questions unrelated to the clinic.
“When I came to Buffalo, I just fell in love with it,” she said, “because people are just genuinely really nice here. I fell in love with it. The Buffalo Bills are involved in so many charities here, and we’ll continue to be.”
“Mary Wilson had the vision for this program to start, and it never would have happened without her and her husband,” said Michael Weiner, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County. “The kids just love being here. It’s great fun, and I think it’s inspiring for them to keep participating.”