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WNYA Spotlight: Russell Kingsbury

This is a new, weekly series that WNY Athletics will be running that highlights those in the Western New York community who go above and beyond for kids in the neighborhood. Look for a new feature each week.

Kingsbury Strives to Keep Kids On the Right Path With Youth Advantage

Russell Kingsbury remembers being a teenager living on the West Side of Buffalo, playing basketball at the Boys & Girls Clubs and at Trinity Playground.

“Coaches invested a lot of time and effort into us and we knew we always had a good place to play basketball and get good instruction,” he said. “We could go play ball with kids that were there, it was always supervised and sometimes we had referees. You always had a place to play. I don’t think that’s true anymore.”

Getting funding for recreational activities is tougher than ever. Getting funding from government agencies loudly stating “We do not fund for recreation” is even tougher.

“My problem is they’re spending money on prison guards and what happens after the kids get in trouble,” Kingsbury said. “I want the kids in the right program before he’s in a casket, before he’s before a judge, before he’s been kicked out of school before he’s in jail. I want to be a true prevention specialist instead of waiting until after they’re in trouble.”

And that’s what he does. Now 62-years-old, Kingsbury serves as the Executive Director of Youth Advantage Buffalo. He’s run the YA basketball league for 19 years. Last season, there were 4,972 player spots (counting kids multiple times if they compete in several events).

“So we have about 5,000 player spots and we do it with almost no budget,” he said.

Youth Advantage Buffalo is a non-profit youth sports outreach program focused on sportsmanship with the mental, physical, social and spiritual development of kids… In the late 1990s, Kingsbury was approached about helping with the basketball side of things.

Games are focused on spirit – a prayer is said before each game. There are strict policies on language, “no taunting, no bad language, no F-word, no N-word; coaches need to be respectful to the referees …”

A post-game handshake between teams is also mandatory.

“We had a team a few years ago that refused to shake hands, they were mad after a game,” Kingsbury said. “I removed them from the league. Eventually I brought them back and they were really good citizens after that.”

Youth Advantage had 250 Head Start leagues in the spring, featuring kids from schools such as Depew, Maryvale, Amherst, Nichols, Canisisus, St. Francis and more.

Games were played on Monday nights at St. Francis, Middle Early College, and the old Holy Angels gym amongst other places.

“We have a really good impact as far as the number of kids that we deal with and the program,” he said.

YA also has a flag football program partnership with the Buffalo Bills. Games are played on a $1.2 million turf field in South Buffalo. Last year, about 120 kids signed up for the spring program.

“The Bills are a really good partner in that as far as providing funding and helping us get the program off the ground,” Kingsbury said. “Every year, the program gets a little bigger.”

Youth Advantage has also done some occasional soccer programs, mostly focused in Riverside and on the West side of Buffalo, but the main focus is basketball. That includes a training program called Process Basketball. We just finished up a session at the HUB with 68 kids.

There’s a Tuesday and Sunday summer league at Canisius High School. On Wednesday’s,  YA has a league for high schoolers and young adults at Riverside Park. On Fridays, there’s a league for international players at West Side Community Services for international basketball players.

Youth Advantage also has a working relationship with the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Last year, the Cavs sent reps to Buffalo for a clinic held at ECC’s Burt Flickinger Center. A return visit is planned for Aug. 25-27 at a site to be determined.

“So, yeah, that’s a lot of stuff,” Kingsbury said. “But I believe that sports in an organized environment is the greatest prevention tool to keep kids out of trouble. We think sports are the vehicle to avoid that.”

Kingsbury often reflects back on his days as a kid when basketball was the sport for him. He continues to pass that love on to today’s youth.

“We’re in Buffalo where the weather stinks for how many months of the year?” he said. “I grew up in the city, I remember … we didn’t have any money. We couldn’t afford football, hockey… baseball wasn’t a big deal when I was a kid. So I played basketball and I continued when I was an adult.”

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