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Alumni return to honor centennial

Salamanca football’s past, future discussed at dinner

SALAMANCA — D.J. Whitmore of course wanted to honor his alma mater’s 100th anniversary of football, but there was another reason to bring Salamanca alumni back for the home opener.

The program had just undergone a difficult summer between seasons, considering but ultimately rejecting a football merger with rival AlleganyLimestone. Numbers were still low — four returning letterwinners — as the team began its 2015 season. The 100th season would happen, but where does the program go to start a second century?

“Any time you do something for 100 years and you do it very well, at a high level, it’s something you need to celebrate,” Whitmore told the audience of football alumni and family. “Also, this year we had some struggles with our football program. There was the possibility of losing our football program, the total existence of it and the identity of it. So I thought that this event would unify us, bring us closer together and hopefully, as a community, support the players, the coaches, the school and the community. Together we can return Salamanca football to greatness.”

A longtime Salamanca booster, who called his football memories “up there with having my kids and marrying my wife,” Whitmore made an appeal to residents to keep their students in school locally.

“Once upon a time, Salamanca was a football destination,” he said. “It wasn’t that long ago that parents from other districts were pulling their kids out to come to Salamanca because of the pride and tradition down here. My brother and myself were Little Valley kids, Kyle Lester was a Little Valley kid, and I can name a bunch more. Today it’s the opposite. A lot of parents in this community are farming their kids out to Randolph or Ellicottville.

“All I have to say to that is let’s keep our kids at home. Let’s support the programs at home. Let’s keep our Warriors here.” The room included several coaches, all Salamanca graduates: Salamanca’s Paul Haley and his staff; Haley’s predecessor, Jason Marsh; Allegany-Limestone’s Paul Furlong and Franklinville-Ellicottville’s Chad Bartoszek and Chris Mendell.

For Furlong, Salamanca football has been family. His father and uncle played in the ‘40s and ‘50s, he and his brother in the ‘80s and his sister kept stats for the team.

“I look at everybody in here and I can just see numbers and plays guys made on the field,” he said. “It’s just a phenomenal place that we have and a phenomenal place where we grew up. It’s funny, the guys I work with now, every night I have a Salamanca story and I know they get sick and tired of it. But myself, I had to move to a different school, but I know what I’m trying to take and put in a different community down the road.”

Whitmore turned the microphone to his honored guests (see related story, C3) George Whitcher and Rich Morton, and the audience to share memories, ask questions or answer trivia from Morton. Aaron Hill, a Salamanca graduate and former assistant coach, played video highlights from the Whitcher and Morton years.

Tyler Heron, a longtime youth coach and former assistant to Jason Marsh, vouched for football as a life tool.

“There’s a lot of success out there (in this room) and it can be traced to being disciplined,” he said. “It’s not discipline as far as right and wrong, but the discipline of football and how to attain and achieve goals in your life.”

Heron pointed out that many communities have struggled to keep their own football teams.

“It’s hard to get young people to make a commitment to anything long-term,” he said. “That’s not just this community. Look at the schools that have merged just to play football. People still want to play football but it’s not like it used to be. How do you change all that around? I don’t know.

“It’s good to see Paul (Haley) make that effort. They’re a young team and they’re going to take their lumps. But it’s good to see no slash after Salamanca. Keep it alive. Whatever we can do to help, send us a text.”

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