A Salamanca Guy
Bartoszek Returns Home To Coach His Alma Mater
SALAMANCA — It’s been about 10 minutes since afternoon practice has ended and Chad Bartoszek, understandably, has places to be.
The Warriors have about an hour in between sessions and Salamanca’s new head football coach has to grab dinner, complete an interview with the media and make an appearance at a late-summer picnic all before getting back to the high school for an evening workout.
But Bartoszek first takes care of a little housekeeping.
One player who skipped out on practice a day earlier is waiting to put down some pushups as punishment for his mistake.
You see, the pushups may not mean anything on the field during the third quarter of a Week 7 game against Franklinville/Ellicottville with playoff positioning on the line, but they mean something to Bartoszek, who hopes to reinvigorate the Salamanca program.
P-J photo by Matt Spielman
The former star has always been a Salamanca guy. And he wants to make a difference in the small Cattaraugus County city.
Bartoszek grew up in Salamanca and starred on the gridiron for legendary Warriors head coach George Whitcher.
Whitcher roamed the sidelines of Veterans Park for 25 years from 1974-98 and during that quarter-century, Salamanca went 167-56-4. Whitcher’s teams appeared in 14 sectional championship games — tied for second with Jamestown, just two behind Orchard Park’s 16 — and won nine titles, which is also tied for second with the Red Raiders and Lackawanna, two behind the Quakers’ 11.
Salamanca’s football tradition grew under Whitcher with Division IV-V titles in 1982 and 1984; a Division VI-VIII crown in 1986; and Class C championships in 1990, 1993, 1996 and 1998.
Whitcher’s final year just happened to coincide with Bartoszek’s senior year. The star tight end caught 29 passes for 614 yards and a school-record 13 touchdowns that fall, helping the Warriors win the Section VI Class C championship with a 24-7 victory over Eden. Their careers would come to an end a week later with a 28-16 loss to LeRoy in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Far West Regional. Bartoszek was named a New York State Sportswriters Association Class C First-Team All-Star at defensive end.
“You had to live up to a standard and it was a lot of pressure,” Bartoszek said recently in between late-August afternoon practice sessions at the high school when asked about playing on those Salamanca teams. “The older guys always made sure we were held accountable. … I just remember it being very tough and disciplined.”
The Warriors went on to claim sectional titles in 1999 and 2001 while Bartoszek went on to a productive four-year career on the field at the University at Buffalo.
“When you come back, you start to remember how things used to be,” Bartoszek said. “You learn a lot as a high school football player. Playing under George Whitcher, Rich Morton and Ralph Tomblin, you just had to be a Warrior at all times.”
During the 1999 season, Bartoszek was teammates of Frewsburg’s Chris Gray and Brian Johnessee, Pine Valley’s Josh Roth and Jamestown’s Joe McKoy as the Bulls made the jump to NCAA Division I football.
Bartoszek played sparingly his first two seasons on campus in Amherst, but blossomed during his junior season. That year, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end caught 42 balls for 441 yards and four touchdowns.
“Chad was an outstanding athlete. His work ethic is really what set him apart. I think back to those days and we didn’t have to motivate those kids. They were intrinsically motivated,” said Salamanca athletic director Rich Morton, who was an assistant coach on Whitcher’s staff and later the head coach of the Warriors from 1999-2004 when they won their last two sectional titles. “He carried himself well, and I think he was a good role model for his peers. … That carries over to what he is doing now in his professional life. As coaches, that’s what we are trying to instill in our players. That’s a lot of what he brings to the table because that’s the type of athlete he was.”
P-J photo by Matt Spielman
As a senior, Bartoszek stood out with Maple Grove product Randall Secky at quarterback for the Bulls to catch 42 passes for 441 yards to close his UB career with 95 catches for 874 yards and six touchdowns.
“My memories are faded,” Bartoszek said. “I’ve had a lot of experiences past high school life, in terms of my own playing career and my own coaching career, so a lot of that has faded.”
Armed with a degree in history education, Bartoszek didn’t go immediately into teaching, instead grabbing the attention of the Indianapolis Colts. He signed with the team as an undrafted free agent and took part in a pair of training camps, but never made it to the active roster.
“It was a different world. It’s crazy how much pressure these kids have to showcase themselves just to keep up,” Bartoszek said. “I was watching (HBO’s) Hard Knocks and those poor guys, those undrafted free agents who have to fight just to make it.”
Bartoszek eventually settled at Ellicottville Central School and became the football coach there in 2013. A year later the Eagles merged with the Franklinville Panthers, the start of one of the most successful recent athletics partnerships in the Southern Tier and even across New York state.
The Titans won a Section VI Class D title in 2015 and Bartoszek finished his six years between Ellicottville and the merged program with a 41-16 record.
“It was really tough,” Bartoszek said about his decision to leave the Titans. “The hardest part is talking to your players … and just knowing how they feel about that decision. Leaving them is unfair … it felt unfair. That was probably the one thing that kept me really hesitant.”
But the pull to return home this summer was too strong.
Bartoszek was hired as the assistant athletic director and a physical education teacher at the end of the 2018-19 school year, and this summer took over the same Salamanca Warriors program he grew up loving.
“The comfort here and the pride, and just a little bit of inner drive to want to make a difference down here was probably the determining factor,” he said. “It’s not just a football thing. We’re just trying to create an identity down here of Salamanca Pride.”
“It’s nice because he’s coming back to where he grew up and played,” Morton added. “He’s very familiar with everything here. Being a part of the program back when he was here and having the success that he was used to having, it’s awesome to have him back.”
The move set off a chain reaction of former Salamanca football players taking over Cattaraugus County programs. Jason Marsh, the Warriors head coach who went 44-35 from 2005-14, took over for Bartoszek at Franklinville/Ellicottville. Paul Furlong, formerly the head coach at Allegany-Limestone, jumped at an employment opportunity in the Salamanca district and will be an assistant on Bartoszek’s staff while Paul Haley, Salamanca’s head coach the past four years who had a 10-27 record, will remain on Bartoszek’s staff as an assistant. Tom Callen, who also played for Salamanca in the 1990s, took over the Gators’ position vacated by Furlong.
“We’ve kind of assembled a staff around him where we are surrounding him with good people,” Morton said. “These guys are excellent, and having Chad at the head of it all is perfect. … He’ll be in the building and we haven’t had that in a while. … We’ve had community members, but they aren’t in the school seeing the students every day. He’ll be hands-on with the kids and he’ll deal with any problems.”
Bartoszek insists that success in Salamanca will not be judged by wins and losses.
“Every place is different. Every place has a different set of circumstances,” he said. ” … This place is special, growing up here and living here. Building it the right way is probably challenge No. 1 for our job as a coaching staff.
“We continue to have challenges. … It’s going to be difficult at times,” Bartoszek added. “We’re starting with four guidelines that we’re trying to keep real simple for them. No. 1 is just be here. No. 2 is to put the team first. No. 3 is work hard and No. 4 is listen. Seems easy enough … but we hold them accountable and we want them to commit.”
Today’s student-athletes are different than Bartoszek and his teammates growing up in the 1990s, and even before that teenagers who grew up during the 1980s when Morton got his start in coaching.
Distractions take kids away from sports. Specialization takes some of the better athletes away from multiple sports.
Success on the fields and courts is important to Morton, who sees something different in the community as a whole when Salamanca’s teams do well.
“Through a lot of the years, if you look at the success of our football program, it gave our town a lot to be proud of. They kind of rallied around it,” he said. “We’ve lost some of that identity. We used to be one of the powerhouses in athletics. As times have changed, there are a lot of factors that go into what we haven’t been successful. There’s poverty and it’s a low socio-economic area … our town really needs athletics. It gives the kids something to do and be able to identify with something positive in their lives.”
Those are things Bartoszek knows he and his coaching staff will have to get right for football — and all sports — at Salamanca to get back to where they have been in the past.
“I don’t want these guys to live our past. Our history is history,” Bartoszek said. “I want them to build their own (history) and I truly mean that. We don’t reference ourselves on this field. We just want them to play football and do it the right way. Do it the correct way that is fun, exciting, tough and safe … and let’s make some memories.”
If the new-age Warriors do in fact find some success on the football field, they may one day look back at Bartoszek as their “George Whitcher.” But Bartoszek says not so fast.
“I’m not that guy yet. It takes years and it takes a lot of hard work,” he said. “You have to build your own foundation of respect and you have to do it in a way that’s consistent. Year No. 1, we’re just trying to do it the right way. Hopefully that lends itself to many more years.”
For Morton, Bartoszek doesn’t have to become “Coach Whitcher” to these kids because being “Coach Bartoszek” might be even better.
“He’s building those relationships with kids. That’s obviously the bigger picture than football,” Morton said. “I’ve always believed, regardless of anything, if you can connect with kids and they trust you and believe in you, they are going to work hard for you.
“Chad is going to get kids to believe in him because he’s going to get to know them personally,” he added. “That’s a benefit of him living in Salamanca and growing up here. He understands the kids, knows the families and has a connection here. That’s a huge positive for us. It’s a great thing that we were able to get him to Salamanca. It’s going to be awesome.”