BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo Public Schools are claiming “discriminatory and disparate treatment” towards its student-athletes relating to an Amherst boys basketball eligibility controversy that BPS says is inconsistent with how the section enforced state rules tied to Bennett football, they announced in a Tuesday press conference at City Hall.
BPS said they have filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights seeking to hold Section VI and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association regarding what they allege is unfair treatment.
Section VI Executive Director Mark DiFilippo said the claims from BPS are “simply incorrect” and that the section is confident that its policies were followed.
“Although we cannot share the specifics of the most recent case cited by BPS, we are in communication with NYSPHSAA and receive counsel from them as it pertains to our interpretations of state regulations,” DiFilippo said.
The complaint stems from what the board views as rules being applied differently to Buffalo schools versus other school districts — particularly surrounding the case of an Amherst boys basketball player being deemed ineligible. The player was a significant contributor for the Tigers throughout the season and was ruled ineligible within the last couple of weeks. The ruling was allegedly in relation to residency issues after the player attended Maryvale last year.
However, Amherst received no punishment from Section VI and was forced to forfeit no games.
BPS board members argued that while Amherst faced no punishment, Bennett High School’s football team had a fairly similar ordeal take place during their season, in which a player was found to be ineligible due to transfer violations, and the Tigers then had to forfeit the six games they had played with said student-athlete on the roster.
“We understand that sports is a gateway out of poverty and to success, and for whatever reason, whatever barriers that are there, we are about removing them,” BPS board president Sharon Belton-Cottman said. “Our message to our students is that we’re not going to take it, we’re going to fight back.”
According to board members, the discrepancy between the two cases prevents student-athletes from having a fair opportunity to compete. They called on Section VI to apply “its rules equitably across districts and [ensure] its processes are fair and equitable.”
Section VI boys basketball chairman Larry Jones said Amherst did their own internal investigation and came to a conclusion the section went along with.
“He was an eligible player,” Jones said of the Amherst basketball player. “When it was brought to their attention that he may not be a resident, they took him off the roster. They never used an ineligible player.”
Amherst won its second consecutive Section VI Class A crossover championship Wednesdsay night wit ha 55-44 victory against Yale Cup champion McKinley. BPS board called on the section to forfeit Amherst and allow the team the Tigers beat to get there, Williamsville South, to play in their place.
Anthony Panella, superintendent of Amherst schools, disputed the BPS complaints in a written statement.
The Amherst Central School District takes the rules governing interscholastic athletics very seriously. We have an obligation to strictly follow the bylaws and regulations set forth by Section VI, NYSPHSAA and NYSED at all times to ensure the integrity of WNY athletics. In all instances we have abided by the rules and will continue to do so. It is unfortunate that some members of the Buffalo Public School system have shared false information about a confidential student matter they have no factual knowledge of nor jurisdiction over.Amherst Superintendent Anthony Panella
“We’re not looking for one simple change in an athletic contest tonight,” BPS general counsel Nate Kuzma said. “We’re looking for broad, sweeping change on how athletics and athletic contests are governed in the state of New York. Enough is enough.”
Kuzma went on to compare the process of how the NYSPHSAA and Section VI governing bodies are chosen to “the NBA of the 1940s.”
“It’s not by accident that every one of the representatives from both of those governing bodies are white,” Kuzma said. “It’s by design that the baton keeps getting handed to the same individuals from the same districts round and round and round. Those are the individuals that are making the rules and those are the individuals that are choosing which rules to implement and when to implement them.”
You can watch the full Buffalo Public Schools press conference below.
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Adam Gorski is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team in 2022. You can find more of his work here.