Project Play Western New York is driven and funded by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation’s Youth Sports & Recreation focus area in partnership with the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program.

Our Mission

Project Play Western New York envisions a community in which all children have the opportunity to be active through sports.

Every child—regardless of location, income or ability—should have access to fun and fulfilling physical activities that build confidence and set them on a path for lifelong success.

Our Framework

Project Play Western New York is modeled after Project Play’s “Eight Plays.” These are eight strategies identified by the Aspen Institute to help children become—and stay—physically active through sports.

Nine out of ten kids say “fun” is the main reason they want to play sports. So, there’s really only one question: “What sounds like fun?”

Children who spend more time in less structured activities are generally better equipped to set their own goals and take action on them. Those children also display higher levels of academic creativity as college students.

By providing more athletic opportunities to children, we can increase the probability they will find a sport they enjoy. That improves the chances they will continue to play sports throughout their lives.

Travel teams often add complexity and cost to sports. That doesn’t translate to success or satisfaction for the children who participate in them. The answer? In-town leagues.

Sprawling mega-sports complexes are all the rage in suburbia, but for most kids, a quality play space can also be a simple, cost-effective one. In urban areas, this could mean finding modest spaces to develop into mini-fields. These locations are easier to find and can be developed for as little as $15,000. A full-sized turf field can cost as much as $1 million.

We need to accept that kids are not miniature adults. They deserve an experience that recognizes their mental, emotional and physical stages of development, and builds on them. The goal should be to improve, not to win. Games and drills with small teams lead to more individual chances to touch the ball and build key skills. This allows children to develop in their sports as they develop in their bodies.

A coach can develop a lifelong athlete – or destroy a child’s love for sports.

  • In one study, only 5% of kids who played for a trained coach quit the next year. That number jumped to 26% for untrained coaches.

We must increase the number of credentialed coaches in the U.S. At minimum, they should be trained in:

  • Coaching philosophy on how to work with kids
  • Best practices in the areas of physical literacy and sport skills
  • Basic safety

Nine out of ten parents have safety concerns, especially regarding concussions. Youth sports should produce positive health outcomes. Therefore, policies and rule changes that eliminate or greatly reduce head contact for kids 12 & under should be introduced.


State of Play WNY Report

To better understand the state of youth sports in our communities, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation commissioned three regional studies by the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program. Out of that research, Project Play was born.

Read The Report

State of Play Video

The research that came out of State of Play was eye-opening. It gave us tremendous insight into how we can shift the state of youth sports in Western New York and Southeast Michigan and help shape the futures of our children and our communities.

Watch The Video

Legacy Funds Grant Applications

In addition to its own grantmaking, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation established Legacy Funds at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo to support localized projects across the eight counties of Western New York. Interested in applying for a grant to improve youth sports in your community? Visit the Community Foundation’s website for grant guidelines and the current timeline.

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Women’s Sports Foundation

The Women’s Sports Foundation is dedicated to creating leaders by ensuring that all women have access to sports programs and opportunities. Together, we can strengthen young women through programs that help shape healthy bodies, sound minds and aspirations for success.

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Playworks helps kids stay active while they build valuable social and emotional skills through play. Learn how you can create opportunities for play in your schools and youth programs.

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Good Sports

Through Good Sports, you can give children the gift and lifelong benefits of sports and physical activity by providing them with the equipment, apparel and footwear needed to get in the game.

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Huddle Up June 2019: A Message from Bridget Niland

In our day-to-day work, Project Play WNY is focused on expanding opportunities for kids of all backgrounds to be active through sport.  During our various volunteer committee and working group discussions, we brainstorm “how do we get the 84 percent of kids who are not moving enough during the week to be more active?”

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Hundreds Join Community Conversations

It has been a busy spring for Project Play WNY! The working groups developed some exciting pilot programs that were launched to gauge the interest within the Western New York youth sports community. Here is a play-by-play of the action!

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Grantee Spotlight- Rural Outreach Center

Project Play WNY is fortunate to partner with so many organizations in Western New York, and this month, we would like to feature the Rural Outreach Center (ROC).

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Free Play Challenge Event May 5

Please join us for the Project Play Western New York Free Play Challenge Event. Building off the success of the Project Play Western New York Community Conversations, this free event will take place on Sunday, May 5, 2019, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the ADPRO Fieldhouse, One Bills Drive in Orchard Park.

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Grantee Spotlight: Buffalo City Swim Racers

As Project Play WNY reaches its one year milestone, we feel fortunate to partner with so many longstanding youth sport organizations in Western New York, and would like to share the good work of these organizations. Up first are the Buffalo City Swim Racers.

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Project Play Western New York: 2019 Community Conversations

We are organizing events to bring together individuals and organizations throughout our region to address the calls for action in the State of Play WNY report.

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Huddle Up: A Message from Bridget Niland, Winter 2019

As 2019 moves into full swing, all of us at Project Play WNY are excited for what we will be launching and how it will serve as a reset on youth sports in our region.

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KaBOOM! and Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation Renew Partnership to Bring Play to More Communities in Need

Building upon the initial Built to Play Initiative, another $1 million is now available across Western New York and Southeast Michigan for creative ideas that incorporate play into everyday life in unexpected places

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Huddle Up: A Message from Bridget Niland, Fall 2018

For those of you who know me, to say that sports are in my blood is an understatement, and I was excited to hit the ground running in my new role as Director for Project Play WNY.

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$100 Million Investment in WNY

Did you hear? Oct. 17, 2018, was an incredible day for Western New Yorkers of all ages who want to get outside and play. In honor of what would have been Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.’s 100th birthday, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation announced a $100 million investment in Western New York’s parks and recreation…

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Project Play Summit a Success

Project Play WNY had a strong showing of participants and honored guests at the national Project Play Summit in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. Hosted by the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, the annual Summit is the nation’s premier gathering of leaders in youth, sport and health.

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State of Play: WNY Youth Sports

Tom Farrey is executive director of the Sports & Society program at The Aspen Institute. Tom speaks during the presentation of State of Play: Western New York, a study on youth sports participation at the Holiday Valley Lodge in Ellicottville.

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State of Play, Part 2: Why making kids specialize in one sport is a mistake

Former pro football player Thurman Thomas and other experts explain why early sports specialization may not be a good idea for our youth. They tell how a multi-sport background and the availability of safe, high-quality play spaces can greatly benefit the development of young athletes.

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Wilson Foundation to fund nine new public play spaces in WNY

As part of their Built to Play initiative, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation will be funding the development of nine innovative new play spaces. Made possible by KaBOOM! and their Play Everywhere Challenge, communities were given the opportunity to reimagine their public spaces to encourage play.

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Built To Play grants bringing new skateparks to WNY

To give kids more opportunities to engage in active play, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation teamed up with the Tony Hawk Foundation to build skateparks in underserved communities of Western New York. Up to five new skateparks will be built with the first round of funding.

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Project Play WNY is a Collective Impact Initiative jointly funded by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo with support from the Aspen Sports & Society Program. The work of Project Play is driven by a 24-member Advisory Council who are committed to creating more youth sport opportunities in the eight-county region of Western New York.  


To ensure progress in all eight counties, the Advisory Council appoints Working Groups whose members are from various communities in our region and who have first-hand experience in launching quality programs. Below is the listing of the 2018-19 Project Play WNY Advisory Council.

Bridget Niland


Project Play WNY, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo

Jim Boyle

Vice President, Programs and Communications

Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

Malia Xie

Program Officer

Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

Tom Farrey

Executive Director

Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program

Risa Isard

Program Manager

Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program

Martin Fox

Project Coordinator

Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program

Michael Buczkowski

Bisons General Manager

Bison Baseball Inc.

Buddy Campbell


Buffalo-Niagara YMCA

John Craik

Executive Director

Population Health Collaborative

Art Eberhart

Executive Director

Niagara Police Athletic League

Rhonda Frederick

President & CEO

People Inc.

Gretchen Geitter

VP of Community Relations

Buffalo Bills

Michael Gentile

Associate Professor of Sport Management

Niagara University

Glenn Jackson

Buffalo Promise Neighborhood

M&T Bank

Rich Jureller


Buffalo Sabres Foundation

Patrick Kaler

President & CEO

Visit Buffalo Niagara

Nekia Kemp

Executive Director

Police Athletic League

Aubrey Lloyd

Director of Athletics

Buffalo Public Schools

Michael Martin

Executive Director

Native American Community Services of Erie and Niagara Counties

Michele Mehaffy

Consumer Affairs Manager

Wegmans Food Markets

Alex Montante

Board Member

Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo

Cecelie Owens

Principal - West Hertel Academy

Buffalo Public Schools

Adam Page

Paralympics - Gold Medal Winner

The Sled Hockey Foundation Inc.

Andrew Rabb

Deputy Commissioner - Division of Parks & Recreation

City of Buffalo

Daniel Robertson

Scholar Mentoring Supervisor

Say Yes Buffalo

Timm Slade

Executive Director

Section VI Sports

Anibal Soler

Assistant Superintendent

Buffalo Public Schools

Gregory Stevens

Executive Director

Niagara River Greenway Commission

Paul Vecchio

Director of Athletics

Alfred University

Michael Weiner

President & CEO

United Way of Buffalo & Erie County

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