SALAMANCA — After 41 years in the same place, Rich Morton isn’t sure what’s next, but it’s time for a change.
Morton is retiring this month after four decades from the Salamanca City Central School District, a career of teaching, coaching and — for the last decade — helping run the Warriors’s athletic department.
In an hour-long interview in his athletic director’s office earlier this month, Morton reflected on the rewarding aspects of his career at Salamanca. He admitted he wasn’t counting down the days just yet.
“I don't even want to think about it because I like what I do and I'm a little nervous about retiring,” he said. “I like going to the games (and) all this kind of stuff. There's stuff that's not fun, but for the most part this is all I've ever done. I'm institutionalized. I get up, I drive here, I go home at whatever time and then I get up and come back again. I've been doing that for 41 years. Maybe it'll be good … we'll see.”
HESITATION aside, Morton and his wife, Julie, a teacher assistant in the high school, decided it was time to take some time for themselves. In retirement, they can travel without worrying about being back for work on Monday morning.
“After 41 years, you pretty much have done all that you could do,” he said. “I'm 64 years old. And my wife would like to be done; she just turned 62, wants to go do things, which we haven't done. So I understand it. A couple other things too, I've had health problems in the past, I've had cancer twice, how long do you wait before you retire?
“I've done all I think I can do coaching-wise, teaching-wise, athletic director-wise, I've accomplished everything I think anybody could accomplish in their careers. I'm still healthy (enough) that I can retire and maybe still go do things. But just family, I guess it's time to retire and see what else is out there”
Chad Bartoszek, the Salamanca football coach and assistant AD the last two years, will assume the role as athletic director for SHS.
MORTON’S career has seen coaching stints in wrestling, football and tennis.
He coached wrestling throughout his tenure at Salamanca at either the varsity or modified level and mentored a pair of two-time state champions, Kane Smith and Ben Haas. He was a football assistant until becoming varsity coach from 1999-2004, including three undefeated regular seasons and trips to the state finals and semifinals. He took on tennis duties in the latter half of his career to help save the program, despite having little experience in the sport.
“I ended up enjoying it,” he said. “The kids have been great. I can tell you the stress level is not the same as coaching football or wrestling. So for me it was more relaxing coaching that sport than it was being in wrestling or football.”
He took on assistant athletic director’s duties in 2010-11 and became AD in 2016-17.
This year saw one of the most unique challenges of Morton’s career, coaching tennis and modified wrestling at the same time due to changes to the high school sports schedule during the COVID-19 pandemic.
AN OLEAN High School and Ithaca College graduate, Morton arrived at Salamanca for his first full-time job in 1981. He arrived at the district the year before as a long-term substitute, then started a position as a driver’s ed instructor, wrestling coach and football assistant until a physical education position opened the following year.
“It was really cool,” Morton recalled of his first year. “I was excited to have my first job and be hired as the head wrestling coach and assistant football coach. I was very excited to get started with my career in (both) because I had a passion for coaching.
“That's kind of the reason I went to school and became the phys ed teacher because I wanted to coach and give back to kids in the same way that my coaches were able to give to us as athletes when I was in high school. I was looking forward to that.”
In 1982, he married Julie, who he had met at Ithaca. They had three children: Brittany, Andrea and Eric. In 2009, Andrea tragically died at age 21 from an unexpected illness while in college.
Rich credits his family for helping him get through hard times, such as his battles with cancer and losing a child.
“I've had a lot of ups and downs through this (time) and I've suffered some tough losses and dealt with some difficult things,” he said. “But through it all, my wife and my kids have been awesome. I couldn't do what I've done without my wife's support all these years. Nobody could. She's allowed me to do the things I've done for the last 41 years to have the success that I've been able to achieve. Without her, it wouldn't have worked.”
Coming back to work helped too, whether to take his mind off the tragedy or try to set an example for athletes in her memory.
“It's always there when you lose a child, she's on my mind all the time, and my wife's,” Morton said. “But if I didn't have something to come to to kind of distract me ... it was therapy, being involved and staying busy so your mind's not constantly, 24 hours a day …. that could just ruin you. You have a choice, I could either stick my head in the sand or get up and move forward. It's what I always taught Andrea too, you've got to keep pushing through things and sometimes things aren't going to be easy, and she would not be happy with me if I didn't get up and go forward and try to do what I've always done.
“She's my motivation too, trying to live my life the way that she would want me to be living, and to be helping other people. By helping other people and coaching them, it helps me and it helps my wife -- knowing that we're doing things like that makes me feel better because that's what she would want us to be doing.
“It's not easy every day, it's tough, I'm not going to lie, that pain doesn't go away. But it does help to be here and be surrounded with people socially and emotionally each day.”
HE ALSO effusively praised those around him at school, from supportive administrators, to assistant coaches, to maintenance and grounds staff who keep facilities ready for athletes.
Morton said he considered watching athletes enjoy successes, such as Smith or Haas, one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. But it’s not just about the state champion-level athletes, but each athlete reaching their highest level.
“I got into this business because I wanted to help kids, but along the way I found out that the kids were helping me more than I'm helping them, and they didn't know it,” he said. “When you see kids achieve something, whatever it is that they're capable of achieving because they're not all going to be state champions, but a kid that won his class tournament or made the first-team selection for the county, they achieved a goal that they set out to achieve. That's our reward, to see it actually happen is so rewarding. The rewarding parts are you're still in touch with athletes that you coached 40 years ago who've gone on to become great citizens, amazing parents, raising wonderful families, successful in their lives, gotten a good job, are giving back to the community and to kids in the same way that they were given. That's the reward.”
Set to hang up his whistle and clipboard for the last time at the end of the school year, Morton doesn’t sound like a man with many regrets.
“It's been terrific. I don't think I could change anything about my career that I've done,” he said. “It's all been what I always hoped and expected and wanted it to be. Sometimes that may never work out that way for some people, but for me it kind of has. Not that there haven't been bumps in the road along the way, but I got here, I made it here. How many people go 41 years? Not a lot. I'm very fortunate to have what I have and have done what I've done. I guess it's time to close that chapter in my career and move on to a new chapter, wherever that's going to take us.”