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Engineers Blazing New Trail

How important was this proposal to Jason Prophet?

He didn’t want to leave anything to chance so he asked friends of his, who are English teachers to proof read his proposal before he submitted it.

Yeah, it was that important.

Prophet, who serves as an assistant coach on the Hutch-Tech varsity boys basketball team, had the goal of organizing the school’s first-ever boys varsity volleyball program.

“My wheelhouse is basketball. I’m a basketball coach,” said Prophet, who played volleyball at Kenmore East. “I’ve seen that there’s kids that didn’t play football or soccer, but they played basketball. So in the fall they would just be sitting around. So I thought – volleyball.”

Prophet felt that volleyball would be the perfect sport to keep the basketball players in shape. Step one, run the idea by Buffalo Public School athletic director, Aubrey Lloyd.

“I remember reading an article on Walt Stefani from Orchard Park. That’s what he did. He made his basketball players play volleyball,” Prophet continued. “I took it. I ran with it. I wrote a proposal. It took me about a day to write it. I had a couple of English teachers proof read it. I sent it into the district and Aubrey Lloyd smiled. Next thing you know a week later I got the go.”

Mission accomplished. Hutch-Tech was granted a boys volleyball team that began play in the fall of 2017.

Fast forward one year as the program wrote another historic chapter in its brief history last week when they defeated Olmsted in four sets to win the first-ever BPS boys varsity volleyball game.

What started as a way to keep basketball players in shape in the off season has quickly morphed into a team where every player takes a great deal of pride in being a part of it. Like senior captain Ehku Say, who is one of the original players from that first team. Say feels they are not only blazing a new trail at their school, but also putting in place a template that others Buffalo Public Schools can follow.

“I love the sport itself and I want every single Buffalo Public School boy from different schools to love it, too.” Say said.

Junior Oliver Ngarukiyirtwari, who stands 6-foot-5, is the perfect example of why the volleyball program was formed.

“My (basketball) coach wanted me to play volleyball,” said Oliver. “At first I didn’t like it, but I liked it after I played.”

Oliver continued by saying that once he played and saw the similarities between volleyball and basketball, things like jumping, foot work, court awareness and passing a ball to teammates, he was hooked and understood the long term benefits of playing volleyball.

“I think it’s gonna help me a lot,” he said. “It’s gonna get me to jump higher, proper foot work and coordination.”

There is also a very noticeable bond between varsity and JV. Because they are building from square one, the varsity players know unity is key to long term success. So they are always vocal in their support of their JV teammates.

“They practice alongside varsity. They work just as hard as we do,” co-captain Cameron Johnson said.

Though they are very green compared to the suburban schools they are facing week after week, Prophet said his team has taken the game to heart and have put forth a full commitment to become the best players and team they can possibly be.

“I see dedication,” Prophet said. “We haven’t had the luxury of playing since third or fourth grade like most of the suburban schools. None of these guys have ever been to a volleyball camp. Their level of dedication, starting off from zero to where they are now is tremendous. I’m baffled by it. I love the challenge. They don’t complain. Any challenge I give them they step up every time.”

The Engineers certainly stepped up to the challenge in a big way on Sept. 22 when they made it to the title game of the Gary Tocke Invitational that was held at Kenmore West.

Hutch-Tech beat Ken-East in two games and split with the Blue Devils, including a heart stopping second game that saw Ken-West score a 28-26 win. Though they fell to North Tonawanda in three sets in the championship game, even in defeat the Engineers battled and supported each other to the final point.

Prophet believes the root of that team first, supportive mentality is thanks to co-captains Johnson and Say who set the right tone every day.

“I tell them all the time. You guys are leaders. I expect you to act accordingly in school. Out of school, especially when you’re on the court,” said Prophet. “They stepped up. We’ve had hiccups here and there, but if they make mistakes they come back 10 times harder and play harder the next time.”

Johnson knows that eyes are always on him and that he owes it to the team to set the right example and do what is best for everyone.

“Even when we do lose if we show that we can compete on their level, cause (most opponents) have been playing a long time,” Johnson said. “Even if they’re the best in the state, if we give them a good run for their money, even if we’re down three or four points. Even if we lose by that amount as long we can say hey, we (hung) with you. We’re here. You have to notice us. There’s always a chink in someone’s chain.”

Notching one win last year, the Engineers goal is to increase that total to three or possibly four this season. But even if the W’s don’t come as quickly as they’d like, the boys have the plus of already seeing the big picture. They know they can’t get wrapped up in wins and losses. It’s about the smaller day-to-day victories.

“I told them always to have fun,” Say said. “Not to lose focus, because some players always lose spirits at the end of the game (after) a loss. But I’m like ‘keep your head high!’ As a team leader, as a captain, as a volleyball player we always need to motivate each other. I think it’s all about spirit.”

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