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New Olean BoE member Fuentes thankful for community support | News - FlagSpin

New Olean BoE member Fuentes thankful for community support | News

OLEAN — A new face will join the Olean Board of Education in July, but it’s a familiar face to many in the community after a life-changing event nearly 15 years ago.

Julio Fuentes was elected to a five-year term on the school board Tuesday with 396 votes, the most received of the four candidates running for two seats. With hopes of being open-minded and ready to learn, he said he has no agenda and hopes to understand the ins and outs of how the school district operates.

“For the community to come out and vote, it was just awesome and really showed the support I have here,” he said.

Fuentes began attending Olean schools when he was 8, becoming involved in youth sports on his way to being a three-sport student-athlete in high school, he said. He was a two-time Big 30 football all-star (in 2003 and 2004) and a dual-threat running back and kick returner for Alfred University.

But in 2006, Fuentes suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury during a game and was initially told he’d probably never walk again. In the 15 years since, he has made incredible progress from having feeling in his arms and upper body to being able to move short distances with a walker.

“Time flies. It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, but it has,” he said. “It’s just taking it one step at a time now.”

Fuentes received an academic scholarship from AU in 2019 to complete his degree and now takes university classes online so he can continue his therapy. Originally a criminal justice studies major, he’s double majoring in psychology and sociology with a concentration in counseling, one of the factors that led him to want to run for the school board.

“Wanting to give back to the community, with the counseling aspect of it, I thought it would be a good avenue to partake in,” he explained. “Getting hurt and seeing the support of my community really fueled me to want to give back in the direction of helping out teachers and kids as far as the support I got.”

Current school board president Mary Hirsch-Schena, who was reelected to her seat Tuesday, said she was thankful at Wednesday’s board meeting for the community’s support as well as grateful for Fuentes joining the board.

“I think he’s going to be awesome,” she said. “I love the fact that he said he’s willing to listen and wants to learn, so we’ll be welcoming him very soon.”

In keeping with his love of sports and wanting to give back to the community, Fuentes helps hold a flag football tournament each year to support someone in need in the community.

“Mike Hendricks got me involved in that early on and he wanted me to help him help give back to the community,” he said. “So I got on board with that and we’ve been giving back to somebody in the community every year, whether they’re run down or had cancer or need help with an operation.”

Fuentes has been working towards establishing a scholarship for an Olean High School student who wants to go to college. He said it’s similar to the Michael Parks Scholarship that was given out when he went to school and one of the inspirations for why he wanted to do it.

“I think education is the key. Educating our students will directly affect our future,” he said. “I have kids in the school district so I just want to give them the best possible.”

Fuentes said he wants the community to know that he is thankful for all their support and that he supports the teachers because that is the core element of education.

“For me, it’s just important to give back,” he added. “I just want people to know I’m willing to listen and take the best, most logical steps for the best for our community.”

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Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

A pioneer in the flag football community, Travis helped co-found the Flag Football World Championship Tour, FlagSpin and USA Flag. Featuring 15+ years of content creation for the sport of flag football, creating and managing the largest flag football tournaments on the planet, coaching experience at the youth and adult level as well as an active player with National and World Championship level experience.

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