By Sam Wilson
Chad Bartoszek certainly knows his way around the Big 30 Charities Classic.
Like most high school football players in the Southern Tier, he grew up hoping to play in the annual senior game between the best in the area from New York and Pennsylvania. He got that chance in 1999, playing for his high school coach, Salamanca’s George Whitcher, in his final game. After a college career at the University at Buffalo and going to camp with the Indianapolis Colts for two years, he returned to the Big 30 game as an assistant on the staff of former Salamanca coach Jason Marsh.
Now, Bartoszek, the fifth-year head coach at Franklinville/Ellicottville (the last four under the F/E merger), he’s ready to lead New York as a head coach when the 45th Big 30 game kicks off Saturday, Aug. 4 at Bradford High’s Parkway Field. He drew on those years of memories almost two decades after playing in the game when he met with the New York team on Sunday for the Big 30 media day.
“I just sat down and wrote down everything I could think of and it all just started coming back,” Bartoszek said Sunday. “I think the biggest thing is just the people, the teammates. When you’re in high school you’re kind of trained to not like someone from a different school. These kids are little more connected than we were through social media and other things, different types of travel teams, they connect better than we did but they still are rivals in some senses. So I think (my memories were) meeting new people, meeting new teammates, lifelong friends and of course playing for coach George Whitcher his last coaching game at the varsity level was a huge honor as he was retiring, and winning.”
Citing the time commitment for a media day, coaches meetings and practices leading up to the game, Bartoszek said he wanted to make sure his family was ready before he accepted the Big 30 invitation.
“There’s a huge time commitment, so the decision was based off family,” he said. “We’ve got two young boys at home and my wife does a lot of that work when it’s football time and adding three extra weeks to that is difficult for her and our family. We’re starting to get to the point where it’s a little easier with the age of our kids and we’ve got a big class of Titans this year that we’re excited to coach. It just matched up. On top of all that, even if all that was right, it doesn’t mean I would still do it, the biggest thing is just the game. The game has always been something that I appreciated. I appreciated being at, playing in it, coaching and it’s just a such a great game so giving back to it is important.”
Assisting Bartoszek will be Mark Blecha, Harley Butler and Marsh, all on his regular F/E staff, and former Salamanca assistant Aaron Hill, who has worked for USA Football for the last three years.
“I wanted all of our Titans staff to be able to do it,” Bartoszek said. “We asked to get six, they said we could have five. I asked everyone on our staff and a couple couldn’t make it. We had an opening and Aaron Hill’s been a friend of mine, we grew up together, he currently works with USA Football, so we connect a lot through there and he’s got a huge background in coaching and football. He loves the game and it was just an opportunity for him to get back into it a little bit.”
Bartoszek will coach the offense with help from Marsh and Butler, who will work with the lines. Blecha, the Franklinville athletic director and former Panthers head coach, will be the defensive coordinator and Hill will work with the “back seven” (defensive backs, linebackers).
The game will give F/E’s staff a chance to work with five seniors again: Brock Blecha, Griffin Chudy, Austin Grinols, Deric Leiper and Walter Woodarek. The Class of 2018 helped establish the successful F/E program (32-8 with a Section 6 Class D championship and four finals appearances in four years) as the first freshmen in the merger.
“They were the first Titans,” Bartoszek said. “They were ninth graders when we started it. They’ve had a full four-year career of being just Titans, so it’s definitely special. It’s kind of strange seeing Brock here today and the other guys who aren’t here (on a senior trip) — Chudy and Grinols and Leiper and Woodarek — they’ve always been around and now they’re going to be gone. Being able to coach them up at the game, hopefully give them a good experience, is important.”
Looking over the rest of the roster, Bartoszek sounds impressed.
“We just got to meet them today and we look pretty good, we look the part,” he said. “We’re missing some Randolph kids and some Ellicottville kids who are on a senior trip, but the kids look the part, they look ready to play. There are some talented, all-state-type players (at) skill positions. I was impressed a little bit with our size we had a the meeting. But none of that matters until you get the pads on and you see how they react to how they get hit by other really good football players, that opens things up. Plus, they’ve got to be in shape.”