The Tuscarora Indian School gymnasium was filled with excitement as Buffalo Bandits players Ryan Benesch, Dhane Smith and Mark Steenhuis and team mascot Rax entered the room. Many Niagara-Wheatfield students are huge lacrosse fans, so having some of their favorite players come to show off their skills was a dream come true.
But school counselor Katie Thurman said the school invited the team members for a more important purpose.
"This is a new program the Bandits have started, where they come to schools to talk about important educational topics," she said. "Last year it was reading and this year it is character development and perseverance."
Teacher Joanne Weinholtz introduced the players by saying, "This game means a lot to our community. It is part of our history and we have a lot of respect for these players because they have taken a game we love and mastered it."
Steenhuis acted as master of ceremonies and talked to the students about his own experience playing lacrosse in high school and how, despite starting at an older age than most, he persevered to become a professional.
"You have to put the effort in to be successful and be rewarded," he told the students. "Never quit, no matter how hard it is."
He then invited several students up to participate in some friendly competitions. The school's own Paul Beatty, a teacher, showed off his goalie skills against the players as well.
"This is a great program that fits in nicely with the Bandits' mission to give back to the community with a positive message for today's youth," Thurman said. "We are very grateful to the Bandits for coming and spending some time with our students. It meant a lot to us."
Renee Hill shakes hands with Bandits transition player Dhane Smith while River Printup looks on. Teacher Paul Beatty plays goal in the background.