George Whitcher To Be Honored
In the long history of Salamanca football, a tradition that goes back over 80 years, one name stands out above all the rest: George Whitcher.
The legendary coach, who guided the Warriors from 1974-99, accomplished about as much as possible while manning the sidelines in Salamanca.
If you ask him, he didn't teach football to his players. He taught life skills to young men as they played football. A good number of his players did not go on to play professional football, so the ideals he enlisted in his players carried much weight as they moved on from Salamanca High School outward into their career path.
"He was a disciplinarian and he had a strong personality, but if we had a problem, his door was always open," D.J. Whitmore of the Salamanca Alumni Football Board said. "And he always got the best out of kids."
Whitmore played for Whitcher in the 1980's, and in his senior season of 1986 the Warriors won the Section VI Championship with a double-overtime victory over Starpoint at the-then Rich Stadium in Orchard Park. Many of Whitcher's seasons culminated with games at that stadium, before state playoffs were introduced.
Whitcher took control of the Warriors in 1974, replacing Joe Sanfilippo as the varsity head coach. He was the eighth coach in Salamanca football history.
In his first season, the Warriors finished 5-2-1. His first game as coach was a scoreless tie against East Aurora. After that tie, it seemed as if the sky was the limit for Whitcher and the Warriors, especially just a season later, when in the final game, the Warriors snapped Springville's 32-game unbeaten streak with a 13-6 victory at Vet's Park.
Over his career, Whitcher instituted a policy of punishing, disciplined and fundamentally sound football, which helped guide the Warriors to a 167-59-5 record in his tenure, which equates to a .734 career percentage, tops by any Warrior coach.
Speaking of coaches, two current varsity coaches - Jason Marsh of Salamanca and Paul Furlong of Allegany-Limestone - played for Whitcher in their playing days. Both had nothing but positive words about their former mentor, and how his coaching style has influenced their own.
"The experiences we had with football were always positive," Marsh said. "He was hard at times, and he demanded the best from us. The lessons he taught us and we learned on the field helped us in life. He made us understand that there are bigger things in life than scoring the game-winning touchdown. He's touched a lot of lives."
Similarly, Furlong, who played for Whitcher and later coached with him at Ellicottville, said that he is a true role model.
"Coach was a guy you never wanted to disappoint, on the field, in the classroom or in society. You just knew he was always looking over your shoulder and wanting you to do the right things in life because you were a Warrior and you represented something special," he said.
There's no question that being a Warrior and representing Salamanca High School is a special privilege to any student-athlete. According to his players, this was Whitcher's law.
"After playing in his program for five years, I realized that the rest of life's challenges would not be much more difficult than what we indured on the gridiron for him," Furlong said. "That was the great part of coach; he had a way of making us do the little things in football that would lead us to great things in our real lives. The professional manor in which we had to approach Salamanca football, shaped all of us towards our lives after high school and who we are now."
Because his Allegany-Limestone Gators play on Friday night, it's a distinct possibility Furlong will be on hand Saturday evening to help honor his former mentor.
Jay Weitzel, another member of the Salamanca Alumni Football Board, played for Whitcher during the 1970s. He was around for Whitcher's first year as a Warrior.
"Coach worked hard to make us a better football team," Weitzel said. "There wasn't a second that he didn't give us a chance to win. He's the best coach I've been around."
Currently, Whitcher serves as an assistant to Tim Bergan at Ellicottville as the junior varsity coach. Bergan said that Whitcher has been coaching football for 52 years.