The responses began pouring in almost immediately, a collective pillar constructed by people who once lived here, went to school at St. Bonaventure or still reside in the city we call home.
Nearly every one of those was in support of my May 28 column, “Olean bashing by A-10 fans has become irritating.”
What stood out in the aftermath of that piece wasn’t so much the complimentary nature of those notes — though it was nice to receive positive feedback, and much appreciated — but the number of people who agreed with the sentiment, who’d become as angered as I have about the way Olean is perceived, and put down, by large patches of the rest of the Atlantic 10, who were as defensive as I was about our town.
The subject briefly arose again at Media Day for the New York Collegiate Baseball League’s Olean Oilers last Monday.
Team president and coach Brian O’Connell Jr. was asked how it felt for Olean, a place “nobody’s ever heard of,” which has only had an NYCBL team since 2012, to have essentially become the face of the league.
That’s when it occurred to me.
There are any number of reasons, including, but not limited to, the Bonnies, that set Olean apart athletically, and therefore only enhance the city’s overall appeal and the pride its residents have.
The Oilers have played in three of the last four NYCBL championship series and had eight Major League Baseball draft picks while setting league attendance records at Bradner Stadium. The Olean High boys basketball team has reached five state final fours and won two New York state championships since 2008.
And how about what so often has been taking place at Forness Park?
JUST THIS weekend, the Olean Synergy softball organization hosted a pair of youth tournaments (10U and 12U) there consisting of nearly 100 girls and 14 teams, including some from the Buffalo and Rochester areas. In addition to the competition and opportunity these events provide is the profound influence they have from a monetary and visibility standpoint.
“The financial impact on the community is also significant as many of the teams stay in the local hotels, eat at the local restaurants and shop at our stores,” one tournament organizer said.
O’Connell Jr. and his staff are happy they’ve been able to contribute to an improving culture in the area with the success of the Oilers. Olean has actually become a destination for summer collegiate baseball players.
“(We’ve) spent a lot of our time and dollars to keep this team afloat and going in Olean, and we do it because we love the community,” he said. “It’s important to keep something like this going, and it has. Olean’s always been a baseball city. We’ve always had good competition here, and so it’s just the next step up, which is phenomenal for the city.
“A lot of people may not have heard (of Olean), but there are a lot of people that have.”
Olean has its imperfections, particularly from a job and economical standpoint. But despite that, plenty of people remain proud of what this town has to offer and what it continues to accomplish.
That much was made clear in the hours and days after the “Olean bashing” column was published late last month.
And being part of that group myself, that was nice to see.
THE STORY, though, was born primarily out of what’s been said about Olean, and even the Bona program, by other A-10 teams’ fans, coaches and media members, particularly on social media, over the years.
Clearly, this is what many of those people have chosen to cling to in place of, in many cases, actually beating the Bonnies, who have the second-highest league win total since 2015 and might soon enough be making another push for the NCAA Tournament under Mark Schmidt.
But here are two other bullet points on that very aspect that didn’t make the original column, but are worth noting:
- The cost of living in Olean is obviously far less than almost every other A-10 city. That means Schmidt’s salary, reportedly upwards of $900,000, goes a lot further here than in places such as New York City, D.C. and Philadelphia. And that’s a plus when considering the pros and cons of each the league’s 14 jobs.
- Has anyone stopped to contemplate that not every 18-year-old kid, especially those coming from troubled urban areas, wants to play at a big school or in a big city? There are plenty of parents (and kids, too) who’d prefer their son to be removed from that kind of environment and attending school in an almost opposite setting, and St. Bonaventure provides that option.
Schmidt has mentioned more than once that this has been the case with a player he’s recruited.
He typically doesn’t recruit kids who yearn for that kind of big-city lifestyle anyway. As the 13th-year coach likes to say, “you can either take a left and go to the dorm rooms or take a right and go to the gym, and we get kids who want to take a right.”
(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)