By Art Eberhart
Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Police Athletic League has been a staple in the Niagara community and Western New York for more than 40 years.
From an inauspicious beginning in 1967, the program rose from the Niagara Knights 105lb Tryo Football Team, adding a baseball league in 1970, to a basketball team in the National PAL tournament in 1974, to what exists today, 60 programs and sub-programs with approximately 18,000 participants annually.
Niagara PAL has been an innovator in youth programming. On the athletic side, PAL started youth soccer more than 20 years ago, hosts two outstanding basketball tournaments, the Mark “Chief” Williams Memorial and the Alan R. Elia Memorial annually. It established the Elementary School Run, the Elementary School Basketball League, girls and boys lacrosse and have hosted an Olympic Trail, the World University Games (baseball and gymnastics) and numerous National PAL tournaments in basketball, baseball, softball and boxing (Mike Tyson fought here).
PAL continues to provide a variety of quality athletic opportunities, instructional golf, summer basketball leagues for boys and girls, as well as summer, fall and travel soccer.
Sports are not the only areas that Niagara PAL has been the leader in creating new programming — Youth Court is a PAL endeavor, “Every 15 Minutes” a drinking and driving diversion program is an offshoot of Youth Court. PAL established Do The Right Thing, recognition for Niagara County youth that have done positive acts, Kidz & Kites, Breakfast with Santa, Halloween Spooktacular, PAL conducts a Youth to Youth Literacy program each year in the elementary schools, created the Affecting Youth TV Show on OSC21.
Niagara PAL kids have organized and hosted a National PAL Youth Leadership Conference in Washington DC for almost 500 youth from across the United States, they were the Keynote speakers at the Florida PAL Youth Conference, they ran two National PAL Youth Festivals at Niagara University and two Niagara PAL youth, Jeff Paterson and Katie Crocker Curry received the first Presidential Youth Awards presented in the U.S.
Niagara PAL is the only organization that recognizes outstanding students each year, and has for more than 30 years, in a variety of activities. Sports Awards honors the best male and female high school athletes of the year, along with any outstanding individual or team accomplishments, i.e. a state championship. The Students of Excellence recognizes achievements in scholarship, leadership and service. The Fine Arts Awards are given in 2D, 3D art, and digital art and theater, vocal and instrumental music.
Niagara PAL’s history has been one of quality programs for the entire youth community since 1967, it is estimated that in the 40-plus years more then 500,000 youth have participated in PAL programs and between 8,000 and 10,000 volunteers have contributed in excess of 400,000 hours during that time.
Niagara PAL has been referred to as the “Renaissance Agency of Youth Agencies.” PAL has been able to do more with less by sharing resources, by keeping expenses, especially administrative, costs to a minimum, PAL’s admin costs are less than 15 percent. PAL depends on the community for support, individual contributions, business donations, events like the Telethon and Four Mile Run, the Great Niagara Steakout & Golf Outing. But it is all becoming more difficult as the economy fails to improve, organizations needs become increasingly greater and contribution dollars less, the decision on the part of the person or company writing the check, much more difficult!
Forty years from now Niagara PAL will hopefully still be providing quality programs for youth, it is not invincible, New York City PAL, where it all started, has been in existence for almost 100 years, but it will depend on a number of factors the most important, continued and sustained funding.
For the first time in its history, Niagara PAL had to cut some programs due to a lack of funding — after cutting expenses and overhead, a difficult, but necessary decision. PAL has also used what cash reserves that existed to keep from cutting additional programs.
Niagara PAL wants to continue to provide what it started 46 years ago, “Cops and Kids together providing for a better community through positive endeavors.” But we need the community’s continued and additional support to ensure another four decades. As some else said: We Need You! If every former PAL kid, their parents, grandparents, those that have been influenced by a PAL volunteer or coach over the years, those that received recognition for their accomplishments at a PAL dinner or function, wrote a check it would solve most of our economic problems.
Please consider a tax-deductible contribution to the Niagara Police Athletic League today. In the words of Whitney Houston “The children are our future.” Send contributions to Niagara PAL, 4455 Porter Road, Niagara Falls, NY 14305. For additional information call PAL at 286-7038 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.Lt. Art Eberhart, retired NFPD, is the executive director of Niagara PAL.