By Kristin Schultz
Former Niskayuna High School football and baseball coach John Furey has been named grand marshal for the annual Niska-Day parade. While he pursued excellence on the field, it is his work off the field that inspired N-CAP leaders to bestow the honor on Furey.
“Coach was instrumental in establishing The Warrior Project,” said N-CAP’s Kristin Sweeter. “He’s a great person who is committed to his students and the vision of having high performing athletes and leaders free from drugs and alcohol.”
Started last spring, the Warrior Project invites coaches from every sport to nominate student-athletes they feel are leaders, academically strong, have a strong sense of character and citizenship and, of course, pledge to live a healthy lifestyle free of drugs and alcohol.
“It’s a serious question for the kids,” said Furey. “The standards are high and we’re asking for honesty.”
The program also aims to create school spirit and camaraderie among the different sports.
“We want to pull the students together,” said Furey. “We want them to gain the desire to be a high school athlete, not just a club player. We want them to spread that spirit and aspire to excellence.”
To achieve these goals, the Warrior Project has sponsored a pep rally (the first at the high school in 15 years) and brought in speakers to talk to students about mental health and substance abuse.
The Warrior Project is based on the nationwide initiative, Life of an Athlete, which promotes athletic excellence through a healthy lifestyle that excludes drugs and alcohol. According to Furey, schools that have implemented this program noticed not only a decrease in drug and alcohol use, but a more positive atmosphere in the halls.
Sweeter pointed out that the Warrior Project is led by students with adults only serving as advisers, allowing for student leadership.
“It gives athletes a platform for true sportsmanship and school spirit,” said Sweeter.
This year will be the 36th anniversary of the town’s annual festival. The theme for this year’s Niska-Day is “Calling All Superheroes,” a theme that N-CAP hopes will encourage people to recognize others who have made a difference in their lives and the community. For many, that superhero is John Furey, but he sees things a little differently.
“These kids constantly inspire me,” he said. “I learn so much from these kids and aspire to be like them.”
Niska-Day, set for May 20, will kick off with a family fun run and continue with the annual parade that starts at 10 a.m. The grounds at Craig Elementary School will host a food court, vendors and more.