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Learning from a legend

New Coaches at Salamanca, F/E, A-L recall how Whitcher shaped their football lives

Decades after his graduation from Salamanca High School, Jason Marsh still had something to learn from George Whitcher when it came to football.

Marsh, early in his tenure as Salamanca’s varsity football coach in the mid-2000s, replacing Rich Morton — a former Whitcher assistant — found himself looking for answers about preparing for a sectional playoff opponent. So Marsh, a 1991 SHS graduate, and his then-assistant, Chad Bartoszek, a 1999 Salamanca grad, paid Whitcher a visit.

“We were talking to him about 'How are we going to stop this offense,' and this and that,” Marsh said, recalling his visit with Whitcher. “George gave us probably an hour after practice one day, and everything he was saying was something that Chad and I had never even thought of and we both looked at each other and said, 'Wow.' He just has so much knowledge. He was just a student of the game, put so much time into it.

“He was always prepared, and that was some of the things I remember, how much time he put into preparing for games. His film work was unreal. We never went into a game — at least in my playing days — that George coached that we were unprepared, not once.”

Whitcher coached the Warriors from 1974-98, winning 167 games and seven Section 6 championships. And while the Warriors’ coaching legend stepped away from Salamanca 21 years ago, his influence on high school football coaching continues to this day, and not just on the sidelines of Salamanca’s Veterans Memorial Park.

This season, three of the coaches taking new jobs in the Big 30, all in Cattaraugus County, share a connection to the heyday of Salamanca football. All three played for Whitcher.

Bartoszek returns to his hometown to lead the Warriors after six seasons in Ellicottville (five with the merged Franklinville/Ellicottville Titans). Marsh, the Warriors’ former head coach and a former F/E assistant, replaces Bartoszek as the Titans’ head coach. Tom Callen, a 1994 SHS grad, is the new head coach leading the Allegany-Limestone Gators.

WHAT WAS IT about the Whitcher era that resulted in a decade-spanning, ever-growing coaching tree?

“It would be hard to speak for everyone else,” Bartoszek said of his fellow SHS graduate coaches. “I imagine having successful seasons back-to-back, over-and-over, the commitment to the football program community-wide was so strong that's going to inspire young players, young athletes, young adults to want to replicate that or they want to maybe replicate the game of football and enjoy the time they had. When I look back at my playing years, I think about the dedication, the commitment, but also the fun that we had. Those moments were inspiring not only to want to be around the game of football, but to work with kids in education in general.