Whitcher, Morton recall Salamanca years

SALAMANCA — The way George Whitcher tells it, there’s one man responsible for bringing him to Salamanca.

The winningest coach in Warriors history, Whitcher had left coaching and teaching to sell insurance in Bemus Point before an opening in Salamanca struck his eye.

“I really missed football,” Whitcher told the attendees of a dinner honoring Salamanca’s 100th anniversary of football Sept. 10.

Whitcher applied and visited the school, where athletic director Louis Foy met him. “He heard that I was coming and said, ‘The job is yours if you want it,’” Whitcher recalled. “I said I’ve got to talk with the superintendent. He says, ‘Don’t worry about the superintendent. I’m Louie Foy.’ And he was right. He carried that kind of clout, and so when I sat down with the superintendent it was a formality. It was a done deal. I take a look at some of the guys I coached and how they struggled to get jobs and how I fell into one. It doesn’t seem fair.”

By hiring Whitcher as an assistant to Joe Sanfilippo, Foy had found the coach who would later replace him and win 167 games and six Section 6 championships.

Whitcher became emotional at the dinner remembering the support he received from the community and players he inherited when taking the head coaching position in 1974.

“I don’t know how you can have a better community to coach in than what I had,” he said before pausing to collect himself. “I had good parental support, I had good community following. We used to draw 1,000 people, 1,100 people to a game. The stadium was packed and the expectations were extremely high. The parents, the community itself, the expectations were extremely high. I think it made our kids better because they try to live up to those expectations.”

The retired coach, who left Salamanca in 1998 with a .734 winning percentage, estimated in all his years, he had about three kids who were “a pain in the butt.”

“The rest of them were absolutely dynamite,” he said. “That says a lot because if you figure out how many kids I coached in this town, to have that to say about the kids that I had is miraculous.”

Whitcher turned to the current state of high school football in Salamanca, expressing optimism for rebuilding the Warriors.

“It’s very important for our kids to regain that expectation that the community is behind them and that what they’re doing is important,” he insisted. “We’re perfectly capable of beating these teams if we can get the numbers and the kids who work hard during the summer. It was a great career and I owe an awful lot to this community. Thank you very much.

“I hope it comes back. There’s nothing in its prime like the red and grey.”

Whitcher’s fellow honored guest at the dinner, his successor and former assistant

Rich Morton, said he now looks at football as a tool, which helped turn high school boys into men.

“I think just by looking out here tonight, all the success that we see in this room as adult males and what you learned coming through the program speaks volumes,” said Morton, who went 42-19 in six seasons as coach. “It gives us great pride. Not the wins and the losses. To see you guys going through that time of your life in college and becoming who you are today. We can’t ask any more than that. Football was just a tool to get you there.”

Morton led the only Salamanca team to make the New York State Public High School championship his first year as head coach.

But it’s not the big games, wins and awards that Morton says he reflects on.

“As I think back to the days when we coached and the things that we did, I think about the days we went scouting, some of the nonsense that went on there,” he said. “The gamedays are great, the awards and accolades that came along with it, but I remember now as I’m here today to see all the guys we coached. Look at all the guys that we coached that are now part of that coaching fraternity: Paul (Furlong), Chris (Mendell), Chad (Bartoszek), our Salamanca guys.

“I still talk to a lot of the guys we coached. That’s special to have. Football will be around forever, but those friendships won’t be.”

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