Homecoming: Sanfilippo leads Vets Park practice before playing Jamestown
If Carl Sanfilippo seemed a tad distracted during practice Thursday afternoon, you could understand why.
“This is just home,” he said.
Sanfilippo is starting his 39th year as the head football coach at Baldwinsville, a Syracuse area high school, with a homecoming. The Bees traveled by coach bus to Salamanca on Thursday to practice in Western New York, a day before taking on Jamestown High School in a Class AA, non-league season opener.
A Salamanca native, Carl’s father, Joe, coached the Warriors for decades before his lead assistant, George Whitcher, took on the mantle for many years himself. Joe Sanfilippo went on to coach at Jamestown after his time with the Warriors.
Baldwinsville football coach Carl Sanfilippo walks off the field with one of his players during a practice at Salamanca’s Veterans Memorial Park on Thursday. Sanfilippo, a Salamanca native, is bringing his Baldwinsville program to Jamestown for a non-league regular season opener on Friday. (Sam Wilson)
“The truth? I wanted to come back ... I wanted to come back,” Carl Sanfilippo said of scheduling a game in WNY. “There’s an old thing in the Lion King, life comes full circle. I wanted to come full circle.”
The Bees, coming off a 5-4 season last fall, should get a good game from Jamestown as well. The Raiders won the Section 6 Class A championship last fall and finished 9-3.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Sanfilippo said. “Jamestown’s a heck of a football team, they’re big, they’re physical. I think we’re pretty big, I think we’re pretty physical. They’re very good, they’re well-coached. I think we’re going into a hornet’s next. The kids know. We’re ready to play. We’d rather play a team like Jamestown in the opener than an easy win. We want to come and play somebody where it’s a 50-50 game. That’s what we want.”
A 1972 Salamanca graduate, Sanfilippo starred on the field for the Warriors, earning first-team all-state honors. His No. 32 jersey is framed in the hallway at SHS. He went on to a college career at Syracuse and has coached for nearly a half-century: eight years at a Catholic school prior to his 39-year tenure at Baldwinsville.
Baldwinsville football coach Carl Sanfilippo speaks with the Warriors after practice at Salamanca’s Veterans Memorial Park on Thursday.
Sanfilippo took occasional stops to chat with old friends and classmates who lined up along the Veterans Memorial Park fence to watch his team practice.
“I’ve been detached from the practice today more than I think I ever have been,” he said. “But it means a lot to me to be here. Everything with football, with me, started here with Coach Whitcher, with my father, Mr. Pat) Carroll. It all started here.
“I haven’t been on this field in 52 years. So it means a lot. I’m looking at the Salamanca kids down there and I’m still one of them.”
Of course, Vets Park looks a lot different now than it did when Sanfilippo played in the 70s. A massive renovation brought practically a brand-new facility, with multiple turf fields, into use in 2021.
“This facility is second to none,” he said. “We play in some big stadiums, and this facility is second to none. It’s as nice as I’ve seen. The community did a phenomenal job. My hat’s off. This is tremendous.”
While he’s spent most of his life now in the Syracuse area, Salamanca shaped much of how Sanfilippo coaches his team.
“People don’t understand what this town is,” he said. “They do not understand. I do. I played college football at SU. This town had more influence on me and more influence on my coaching technique than any place I’ve ever been. This little town, you have a great community, great school, great people, the Seneca Nation. It has everything. You just can’t replace what this town brings to you.”
Sanfilippo isn’t sure how much longer he’s going to coach, noting his health will be a factor in his decision going forward. But to last 39 years in one job is almost unheard of in today’s athletic climate. He noted there were even grandchildren of players he once coached on the field for practice on Thursday.
“I love the kids,” Sanfilippo attributed to his longevity. “I love the kids and I love football and the energy on the field. I just love the game. I love what it’s done for me and my hopes are that it will do the same for other kids.”
(Times Herald sports editor Sam Wilson may be contacted at email@example.com)