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The Eagles Have Landed – CSAT Arrives In The NFL

The start of every new season brings with it a list of new challenges for the athletic program of every high school in Western New York.

But the 2016-17 school year will bring an entirely new line of rows to hoe for the Charter School for Applied Technology (CSAT) as they have moved from the Niagara-Orleans League to the Niagara Frontier League.

“It’s gonna make for some good competition for us,” said CSAT athletic director Joel Reed. “Not that we didn’t have it in the N-O. The N-O has some very good sports. Some very good programs. There’s a lot of programs that they (N-O) have out there that, I would say, would rival the best in Western New York.”

When it was officially announced that CSAT would be entering the NFL, most observers automatically talked about the rise in competition that the Eagles will now contend with as they face larger schools like Class AA Kenmore West, Niagara Falls, Niagara-Wheatfield and Lockport as well as Class A schools Kenmore East, North Tonawanda, Grand Island and Lewiston-Porter. As oppose to N-O, whose teams are Class B or Class C.

But Reed said the move was in no way meant to disrespect the N-O. He felt that the N-O has very strong programs that helped CSAT grow and improve. The biggest factor in moving was that the NFL is more travel friendly for CSAT teams, fans and families. NFL schools, especially Ken-East, Ken-West and North Tonawanda, are a much closer drive than the N-O schools.

Akron, at 36 minutes away, was the closest Niagara-Orleans school. Now, Lockport, at just 30 minutes in the farthest CSAT will have to travel for league road games.

“One nice thing about the move is that location alone is going to help in that now it will make it a lot easier for parents to come out to all the contests, rather than just the home games,” said Reed.

“That’s nice too because you hope it means that some of your fans will travel and bolster some more kids to get involved.”

CSAT boys’ varsity soccer coach Dave Long agrees that playing more games locally will not only draw more fans out to games, but also hopefully spark interest among the students to come out and join a team or two.

“It’s been a challenging first year,” Long said. “I expect us to be able to use these games to grow. Since we’re local now we should be able to hopefully get more players interested in the program, help the program grow. So once it starts to grow in numbers we can continue to grow developmentally and grow with (our) skills.”

Varsity sports currently active at CSAT are girls volleyball, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball, boys and girls cross country, cheer leading and boys golf. Volleyball, basketball and soccer are all currently played at the CSAT Middle School at Hertel and Shoshone in North Buffalo.. the site of the former Holy Angels Academy.

“Personally I feel a little bit closer to home,” said boys’ varsity soccer captain Justin Vullo. “It gives me a little more comfort on the field. I think it’s gonna be good for us in the long run.”

With their enrollment on the rise, CSAT will soon be a Class A school with a student body that is on par with Kenmore East and Lewiston-Porter.

Ultimately, the hope is to draw in another small school and create a 10-team league with large school and small school divisions.

For now though, all eyes are on CSAT as critics question whether or not the Eagles’ programs are truly strong enough to survive in the NFL.

Doug Whitehead, who coaches varsity baseball and girls’ volleyball for CSAT, is a Kenmore East grad. Having played three sports – volleyball, basketball and baseball – during his days as a student-athlete, Whitehead knows first hand what the NFL is all about and can offer an interesting perspective on the move.

“I think there’s a little bit of a feeling that we need to prove ourselves,” said Whitehead. “Anytime you come into a new league you’re trying to do your best and you’re trying to put your best product out there. Yeah I think it’s important we show that we can compete at this level. We competed at the other levels with N-O and the N-O has some very good competition. Stepping up to the NFL is gonna be even tougher, but I think we’re definitely up for it and our kids will work their butts off to get to where they need to be.”

While it’s true that volleyball and both girls and boys soccer teams have had a rough going in the first few weeks, those close to the CSAT programs know that the girls’ and boys basketball teams and baseball have been very successful in recent seasons. The Eagles baseball team upset longtime Class B powerhouse Tonawanda in last season’s sectional playoffs and were on the cusp of making the B-1 title game. Whitehead said the balance of teams at CSAT that are competitive and ones that are struggling is a challenge that all schools face. So CSAT is no different than any other NFL school in that regard.

“There’s gonna be growing pains,” Whitehead said, “but in any school district whether you’re an A school or a D school, you’re still gonna have teams that are gonna be really good and in a year or two they can be really bad. The ebs and flows of coaching high school sports.”

Reed added that not having to pour as much money into the transportation budget means there could be money available to benefit the athletic program in other ways. Like possibly expanding to include another sport, like a ski club, somewhere down the road.

For now, it’s about taking what they’ve learned through time in the Niagara-Orleans League and trying to find success in the smaller victories along the way. And realizing that those small victories will lead to bigger results over time.

Samantha Snashell, a senior captain on the CSAT volleyball and softball teams, says they faced some strong teams in the N-O. But after just a few weeks in the NFL, Snashell has noticed that the level of competition in the NFL, especially volleyball, is a cut above what they had been seeing.

“I feel like the competition level is harder this year than it was last year,” she said. Snashell believes CSAT teams can definitely hold their own against the NFL, but they have to believe they can do it from the start and not let a negative mentality set in if they fall behind early.

The move to the NFL should also be a plus for the long term well being of CSAT kids. The close proximity of the NFL schools will makes it a much more convenient for the CSAT student-athletes, many of whom rely on public transportation to and from school, to get home at an earlier hour and not feel rushed to do homework.

“Absolutely. Our kids are great workers and they’ll work their butts off for school and that’s the most important thing,” said Whitehead.

“Sports, we always tell them comes secondary. If your grades are good and your sports are good it can help you in the long run in college or in life….the most important thing is they get the work ethic, something that they’ll need when they are older. That’s the most important thing. Wins and losses will come, making them into good people and successful adults is the most important thing.”

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