By Kellen M. Quigley
With more than 30 years working in the Ellicottville Central School District and nearly 50 years involved with the school’s sports programs in one fashion or another, Michael Loftus was recognized Saturday for his contributions to youth sports in the county.
Loftus was one of 13 athletes, coaches and teachers inducted into the Cattaraugus County Sports Hall of Fame during its 17th annual banquet ceremony March 30.
“It’s a pleasure to be up here. Of course, at my age it’s a pleasure to be anywhere,” he said, receiving a big laugh from the audience.
At 89, Loftus was the oldest inductee this year. However, he had been nominated twice before by his former student and boss, Mark Ward, a 2005 inductee to the Hall of Fame.
“Mark has been telling me what to do since the third grade when I was his P.E. teacher,” Loftus said. “This time he told me this is it.”
“Mark would keep introducing him and nominating him, and Mike would say, ‘No, I’m not worthy,’” said Mark Benton, master of ceremonies. “But when he sent in his biography — which I cut down to save time — it’s just phenomenal.”
A lifelong county resident, Loftus, grew up and continues to live in the town of Mansfield, graduating from Little Valley Central School in 1947. There, he participated in varsity football, baseball and basketball.
After high school, Loftus attended Akron University, where he ran track for three years, received his Bachelor’s Degree from Western Illinois State and a Master’s from Ithaca College. He also served in the US Army during the Korean War.
From 1958 to 1962, Loftus worked at BOCES, coaching high school baseball, volleyball and football. Then from 1962 to 1995, he taught elementary physical education in Ellicottville where he also coached basketball, football and track.
Loftus was best known as the game clock operator for boys and girls basketball, football and girls soccer for over 40 years.
“My claim to fame was as a timekeeper, but Mark (Benton) didn’t mention I did hold a coaching record for quite a few years here in the county,” he said. “I lost 31 games in a row. But of course, records are made to be broken and that one was.”
Although he said his coaching career was a little thin, Loftus said he had a few good runs. He said one season he had a group of 31 boys who never missed a practice.
As a timekeeper, he said he worked with many great coaches at Ellicottville, including Ward, Tim Bergan, Ray Gray and Mary Neilon. During the games, Loftus said he and Butch Ramire always ran the best table.
“Butch and I could run a table, keep the game under control, critique the referees, coaches, both teams and the cheerleaders, work the crowd, always had snacks and could do the Buffalo News crossword puzzle at the same time,” he said.
During the years Neilon coached the girls soccer team, Loftus said they would travel all over the state for various playoffs and championships and he would be the “wagon master,” like John Wayne in the old westerns.
“I would make sure everything was loaded and all the coaches and girls paraphernalia was packed,” he recalled. “In one of my finest hours, we pulled away from Long Island and I left 12 brand new soccer balls we had ordered for the tournament lying on the ground. I finally told Mr. Ward about that 30 years later.”
At the school, Loftus said it was great to be an elementary school teacher, watching the kids grow up through sixth grade. He said they always had a great influence from their parents and the Ellicottville teachers and staff.
“Ray Gray used to tell me anybody could coach,” he said. “You could whittle a coach out of a stake.”
However, Loftus said Gray could always tell the good ones from the great ones, with the great ones starting out as chicken poop and by the end looking like chicken salad.
“The Ellicottville coaches did that for years,” he added.
During his decades working with the Ellicottville school, Loftus was also a husband, father of two and my own grandfather.