Red Raiders celebrate new digs
The Niagara Falls Red Raiders basketball association has finally found a home.
On Tuesday night, Niagara Falls mayor Jim Diodati and past and present members of the Red Raiders executive cut the ribbon and celebrated the grand opening of the refurbished gym at Princess Margaret Public School on Culp Street.
“This has been a few years in the making where we were looking for a new home. Over our 26 years existence, we had built up some funds through tournaments and other revenue sources,” Red Raiders president Jamie Clarke said. “We were looking for a way to benefit the community and benefit our organization so we approached the school board (District School Board of Niagara) because we knew this facility had the bone structure. It just needed a facelift.”
The Red Raiders and the DSBN reached an agreement where the former would provide a substantial amount of money to give the gym a makeover in exchange for access to the facility on weeknights and all day Saturday.
“It is also available to the school for all its activities, after-school sports and DSBN tournaments,” Clarke said.
The work at Princess Margaret included a new wooden floor, glass backboards, shot clocks, a gym divider that comes down from the ceiling, a score clock, a storage facility for the Red Raiders, new banners on the walls, improved lighting and a fresh paint job for the walls.
The Red Raiders are planning to use the facility for its house league and travel programs.
“It is also a great venue for hosting travel tournaments,” Red Raiders past president Mark Federinko said. “We have already had a tournament here and it worked out really, really well.”
The association is thrilled with its new home.
“It has been more than we expected,” Clarke said. “We were expecting a floor and some backboards but there are a lot of features here that high schools don’t even have.”
The Red Raiders also use the MacBain Community Centre and DSBN and Niagara Catholic District School Board gyms to run is programming but Princess Margaret will be the hub.
“One thing I would like to stress is thanking the school. They definitely could have said no but they were all in on this,” Clarke said.
The project is part of the Red Raiders’ 25th anniversary celebration, delayed one year by the COVID 19 pandemic.
“This is 26 years of the Red Raiders and the money had been building,” he said. “At our meetings, we talked about having this building fund and how could we use it to benefit our community and how could we help basketball.
“It is not just this year’s executive. It has been 26 years of volunteers.”
Federinko is pleased with the outcome.
“This is a win-win for everybody. The school, the community, our club and local basketball,” he said.
Princess Margaret principal Cindy Kohinski attended the grand opening and expressed joy with the enhanced facility.
“It is not really common in the elementary setting to have a partnership with an outside agency,” she said. “Knowing Jamie and being familiar with the Red Raiders — many of our students participate with them — being able to join up with them to better our gym and to be able to facilitate a partnership with a community group we benefit from was exciting. We wanted to make that happen.”
Kohinski is pleased with the end result.
“Certainly going in, the hardwood floor was the most exciting part but when it started to come together with the glass backboards and the new paint and refresh with the new logos, it was more than we had dreamed of. It is a fantastic facility now.”
Princess Margaret students have been enjoying the facility during the school year. The work started in the spring of 2021 and the school had its grand reopening in October.
“They are so proud and since we came out of COVID, we have been able to host DSBN events,” she said. “We hosted a DSBN badminton tournament for many of the Niagara Falls schools and we hosted some professional development for teachers in our system with athletic consultants so we were able to showcase our gym in that fashion as well.”
Because of the inherent stops and starts related to COVID-19 lockdowns, the Red Raiders didn’t run house leagues this past season. It did run nine travel teams but the Red Raiders can’t wait to get its house leagues up and running again. They typically attract upwards of 400 participants.
“It is our grassroots program and it is where kids get introduced to basketball and hopefully they get hooked in at a young age” Clarke said.
It is not just about sport.
“Even above and beyond basketball, it teaches life skills and it gets kids out and involved,” Federinko said. “We are really excited about starting house league up again.”
Registration for the Red Raiders opens online in mid July at nfredraiders.com.