The telephone. That’s what Lee Wallace was trying to escape when the longtime Niagara County Community College athletics director finally hung it up at the end of last month after more than a decade on the job.
Wallace, whose list of accomplishments are numerous at the Sanborn school, will stay on at the college part-time, teaching an occasional class or two and helping the transition to a new AD whenever he or she is hired.
Wallace said he’ll miss the games, the bonds with coaches, and the challenge of expanding the small school into a power, but he won’t mind putting an end to the incessant phone calls that became a daily part of his life.
“This,” he said holding up his cell phone, “will not be missed.”
While we’ve had our differences with Wallace at times, he has certainly been a champion for Niagara County sports, going back to his time at Niagara-Wheatfield High School.
And in pushing the NCCC program to new heights in the past few years, Wallace has created a sturdy foundation for the next AD to build on. The coaching staffs are as good as they’ve been in years, with standouts like Matt Clingersmith (baseball), Bill Beilein (men’s basketball), Joe Daigler (women’s volleyball) and, of course, longtime wrestling coach Eric Knuutila. The fields have been upgraded. The school added men’s lacrosse, and hired former Buffalo Bandit Rich Kilgour as the first coach.
And the program’s name has been changed from Trail Blazers to Thunder Wolves, complete with a new logo.
Maybe it’s fitting. Wallace, who recently celebrated his 30th anniversary with his wife, Patti, has been a trailblazer. But all trailblazers must leave at some point.
Manuel, NT and Ransomville
Speaking of ADs, don’t be surprised if Warde Manuel steps up what has been a never-ending job search since he got to Buffalo just over five years ago. With the departure of UB President John Simpson, who has been firmly in Manuel’s corner, and the uncertainty that surrounds the campus after the failure to get the UB 2020 plan financed by the state government, we bet he doesn’t last the year. Manuel came to Buffalo with grand plans, hoping to position himself as the next power conference AD. But he didn’t get hired at Michigan, the school from which he played football and later served as Associate AD. In fact, one source insisted Manuel was never higher than the school’s third choice for the spot, and had little chance of landing the position. He has also interviewed at spots like Washington and, as was most recently reported, Maryland. Surely, Manuel expected the football team’s stellar 2008 season — in which UB upset 12th-ranked Ball State and earned a bid to the International Bowl — to be the springboard to bigger things at the school. Instead, season ticket sales have stalled, the team regressed last year before losing coach Turner Gill to Kansas, and the setback of UB 2020 means the school’s fieldhouse project remains in limbo. Before, Manuel was swinging for home runs, content with his current job, but looking for bigger challenges. We expect he’d be more open to a lateral move now than before. ...
What does North Tonawanda’s stunning loss to Kenmore West mean for the area’s football scene this fall? Well, things should certainly be more exciting. Class AA North is wide open, and although the ’Jacks lost in week one, they’re still the prohibitive favorite. Ken West’s failure to put away the ’ Jacks (missing a number of conversions), still has us worried about their consistency, but they have the athletes to emerge as a power. ... Speaking of high school football, how is it that Buffalo city schools can dump $30 million into the renovation of Riverside Stadium, but the district’s football programs are still woefully underfunded for coaches compared to their suburban counterparts? Bennett and Grover Cleveland added junior varsity football, and that’ll go a long way in helping those programs, far more than jazzing up a stadium will. ... While Riverside got a facelift, the success story at Ransomville Speedway has more to do with maintenance and reliability. We recently had the chance to take in Greater Niagara Newspapers night at the oval, and are always amazed with the way the dirt track keeps pouring fans through the turnstiles. For example, the crowds at Holland Speedway keep shrinking, and the grounds around Lancaster, now Dunn Tire, Speedway seem neglected. But Ransomville keeps putting a quality night of racing each Friday, and families have responded be keeping the track as part of their weekly routines. Haven’t made it yet? The season big King of the Hill card is coming Sept. 18.
Contact Tim Schmitt at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 282-2311, ext. 2266.