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Kid-focused career ends in Wilson; Jufer will miss students he helped as coach, athletic director, official

Charlie Jufer has been in education for 37 years, trying to make a difference in the lives of other people's children.

It takes a lot of patience to deal with kids, especially teens with their daily dramas, but needing a break from students in the Wilson School District to recharge his battery wasn't the reason he has taken a three-day weekend once a month for the past dozen or so years.

Sure a workweek nearly more than double the normal 40-hour one can cause a person to become fatigued, but Jufer took all those long weekends so that he could spend time with his own school-age children -- in New Jersey, where they live with his former wife.

Exhaustion? Try driving 400 miles one way to spend two days with the kids -- two sons and a daughter -- and then driving 400 miles back to get ready for another long workweek.

That long road trip will become much easier after this month, and it will occur more frequently, too. Jufer is retiring as the district's athletic director and the high school's assistant principal.

He will be succeeded as AD by Jeff Roth, the former Niagara Falls High School tennis coach and son of Jon Roth, the Grand Island School District's AD.

"Now I can see my kids more often," Jufer said.

But he will miss his other kids -- the ones he would greet every morning once they got off the bus and walked into school, the ones he has seen improve in their studies and in athletics, and the ones he has seen graduate into careers -- including Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour, who played football for Jufer at Wilson.

Voutour presented his former coach the Outstanding Service Award -- an honor usually bestowed only on retiring police officers -- during the "Jufe-a-Palooza" retirement bash June 18 at the district's Hutchison Field.

Voutour is just one of the many former students who helped Jufer momentarily forget about the sadness he experienced from missing his own children.

"I think keeping busy kept my mind off of it," said Jufer, who at one time juggled his duties as an administrator along with football-coaching duties once he became the AD and assistant principal in 1998. "It was horrible at the beginning. I think being busy helped me and kept my mind off being away from [my] kids."

Jufer admitted last week that his retirement probably wouldn't hit him until Wilson's graduation ceremony, which took place Saturday.

He had an office filled with items as of last Monday, including photos of the district's Scholar Athlete state championship teams and an old leather football helmet similar to the one he wore during his days as a fullback and linebacker at Tonawanda High School.

There also was a program from his son Matthew's Halloween concert from last October at the University of Delaware, which he also attended. Matthew is a sophomore who also performs with the marching band during Blue Hen football games.

Jufer's oldest son, Adam, is about to become a graduate student. His daughter, Rachel, just completed her freshman year of high school.

While he would make the trek once a month to see them, staying at the home of his ex-wife and her current husband, that is not the same as being able to go home at the end of a long workday and being able to talk to your children face to face, finding out how their day went.

While his sense of humor aided him in the tough times, it was quite difficult to muster a smile during the alleged hazing incident in 2008 on the Wilson baseball team bus. Wilson was in the news, locally and nationally, for all the wrong reasons in a moment that clearly ranks as the lowest during his tenure with the district.

It's still a taboo subject, even though charges were eventually dismissed against two of the coaches and two of the three former students involved in the case.

"It's probably going to be a bruise on our arm for a while," Jufer said. "That negative with the baseball team wiped out a lot of positives."

One of them was the fact the district received the state's Team School of Distinction honor from the State Public High School Athletic Association, as each of its varsity programs recorded a cumulative grade average of 90 percent or better in 2008. That feat was largely overshadowed by the baseball drama.

The district's teams earned the honor again this year; Jufer received the official letter from the state June 18.

"I think the last couple of years we've regrouped," he said. "The fact we're a school of distinction [again] is a biggie. We're putting it in the past, and we're trying to move ahead."

But not without saying goodbye.

While the district and Jufer received their share of criticism during the baseball debacle, that didn't stop the community from giving Jufer a big send-off into retirement.

Jufe-a-Palooza attendees included former students Jufer has taught or coached who have moved onto successful careers. Some attendees shared their stories about Jufer from his days as football coach. Bob Hartz, a member of the Wilson Wall of Fame committee and former student, served as the event's master of ceremonies. The event included a bounce house for kids, along with free hot dogs, watermelon, beverages and candy.

An estimated 500 people were at the retirement bash. Jufer wore a custom-made No. 34 jersey (his high school number), which coincidentally referred to his number of years with the district. It was during this event he received the honor from Voutour.

"It was nice because even though you know you're doing this for people, when they come out it starts to make sense that you had an effect on people," said Jufer, who looks slimmer these days after losing 40 pounds over the past five months during an in-school Biggest Loser competition. "A lot of people said thank you to me that night. I was on cloud nine."

"We decided to do it because it was a way of honoring him," said event co-coordinator and Wilson Sports Booster Club member Sandy Walch, "just as a way to thank him for the support he's given the booster club people, the sports and the athletes."

Before becoming an administrator with the district, Jufer was a math teacher who coached football (1976-2003), girls track and field (1976-98), and junior varsity wrestling (1976-81 and 1996-97). He started the girls track and field program, guiding the team to four Niagara-Orleans League titles. Track was his favorite sport to coach, because it's like teaching.

"When you can see you are accomplishing something with the student or athlete it's rewarding," he said. "You could measure the improvement every day [in track] with a stopwatch or measuring tape. Whether a kid was a star or not, I always made a big deal about it because there are a lot of kids who work hard who don't get the medal."

He guided Wilson to three division titles during his tenure as varsity coach (1981-2001).

Also during his watch, the school built its current soccer complex and four years ago raised the money to renovate the school gym, purchasing new banners and photos of athletes participating in each sport and hanging them on the walls.

"Charlie has just been an outstanding employee," School Superintendent Michael Wendt said. "We're going to miss him. He's always put kids first."

e-mail: mrodriguez@buffnews.com

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