by Brian Quinn
November 16, 2004
Former Warrior coach to be inducted into county sports hall
Joe Sanfilippo recalls the days when Warriors drew up to 2,000 fans to their football games.
“The saying in Salamnca was, the last guy out of town, turn off the lights,” he said. “That’s what they used to say.”
While it won’t be nearly that large, there will again be a sizable crowd present Saturday night at the Great Valley Fireman’s Club at 6:00 p.m., when the former Salamanca coach is inducted into the Cattaraugus County Sports Hall of Fame. Sanfilippo, who coached the Warriors from 1957 to 1974, later coached in Jamestown. He is already a member of the hall of fame in Chautauqua County.
He said his family would be in attendance. He has two sons, Joe (of Cleveland) and Carl (a coach at Baldwinsville). He also has two daughters, Laura Vogl of Cazenovia and Anne Marie Heymann of Tully.
Sanfilippo said he had a no-nonsense approach as a coach.
“We didn’t fool around,” he said. “The kids knew what they had to do and they did it. My first year, we won one game by one point. We beat Bolivar-Richburg and they were 7-1. The next year we won a league championship.
In Jamestown my first year, I won one game by one point,” Sanfilippo recalled. “We were 2-15 those two years. You take away those two years, I figure I won 80 percent of my games.”
Sanfilippo’s approach to the game seemed to rub off on his players, though he said he didn’t realize how much they appreciated playing for him until later.
“I thought there were two games they could have put out a little better effort,” Sanfilippo said. “They wanted to win more than I did. You don’t know how you affect kids until you retire. They come to your house and talk.”
It isn’t just former players who remember Sanfilippo, but at least one former coach.
“He’s easily one of the most unforgettable characters I have ever known,” says George Whitcher, who worked with Sanfilippo for six years, first as a freshman coach, and eventually replaced him as head coach of the Warriors in the 1970’s. Whitcher coached the Warriors until 1998.
“He was able to bring out discipline in his team. All the good things you think about the program started with him.”
Sanfilippo had no problem remembering some of the players who continued to be successful after leaving Salamanca. He noted that two players, Tommy George and Charlie Light, who have since passed away, went to Syracuse University on full scholarships. There were three Nugent brothers, one of whom, Bob, teaches at Salamanca High School. There was also Jim Painter, who went on to coach in Jamestown for about 30 years. Carl Sanfilippo played for his father at Salamanca as did Joe at Jamestown.
Also in that group is Chuck Crist, now a principal at Seneca Elementary School, who went on to a pro football career with the New York Giants, New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers.
Sanfilippo said Crist was a quarterback for the Warriors. Sanfilippo remembered a game against Wellsville in which Crist completed all eight of his passes.
“In high school, Chuck lost one game, and it was my fault,” Sanfilippo said laughing. “My tailback got hurt and I used a quick kick. My fullback had never kicked in his life. I had the wrong kid kicking. That was our only loss in four years.”
Sanfilippo, who had coached high school football in New Mexico before coming to Salamanca, said the harsher weather prevented him from calling more pass plays at first. He remembers getting calls from fans saying, “It’s legal to throw the ball.”
The Warriors did start throwing in order to set up the running game.
As far as rivalries went, Sanfilippo said Salamanca and Kane, Pa., used to have some intense match ups that excited the fans. “We’d go down there and take 1.000 people with us,” he said. “We’d set their attendance record and they’d set our attendance record. They were the closest and hardest fought games. One year they were No. 7 in Pennsylvania and we beat them.
“A lot of schools didn’t want to play us,” he said. “We’d have to travel, but we found somebody. We always played eight games.”
Sanfilippo’s son, Carl, now runs the Big 30 summer football camp each summer. Carl was another former Warrior who went to Syracuse on a full scholarship.
“We started that camp in 1972,” Joe Sanfilippo said. “I think it’s the longest running high school camp in the country.”
Whitcher recalled a discussion he had with Sanfilippo during a game against Harborcreek, Pa., in 1968. Whitcher said he had scouted the opposition twice and was impressed with what he saw.
“That was a transition year for Joe,” Whitcher said. He had graduated Chuck Crist and that group of kids from a team that had gone undefeated the year before.
“We got in front of them, 6-0. It got into the third quarter,” Whitcher said. “We were playing ball control and kicking. I said, ‘Coach, you’ve got to open up. When I saw this team play, they showed an ability to explode.’
“He says, ‘You’re watching Salamanca football and I’m not going to lose a 6-0 lead.’ And you know what? He didn’t. That was my introduction to working with Joe.”
Whitcher said Sanfilippo, as strict as he was, would listen to ideas from his assistants.
“I remember one year, we had two outstanding running quarterbacks,” Whitcher said. “I asked him if I could put in the option. He said, ‘No problem.’
“I think the real measure of him is, as tough as he was, the people who played for him are proud that they were a part of what he did.”