Charlie Comerford is making a return to the Western New York football scene, and he’s doing it with a brand-new program.
The former Bishop Timon-St. Jude athletic director and head football coach has been serving as the new AD at Western New York Maritime Charter School since August and will lead a merged Health Sciences/WNY Maritime outfit on the gridiron this upcoming 2018 season.
Section VI football chairman Ken Stoldt confirmed the addition of the 64th member of the federation.
It’s the first time in Stoldt’s nine years as chair that a new program is joining the section, not including when the Buffalo Public Schools came over from the Harvard Cup in 2010.
"I don't know how this will play out,” Stoldt said. “It'll be interesting. Health Sciences is actually the bigger of the two schools. They should be OK with numbers the first year. I think as of right now it'll just be a varsity program. That would be my guess."
The expectation for Comerford is to have 40 to 60 kids the next few seasons as just a varsity program.
“I think if we get 40 kids next year, 20 to 25 from each school, I think that would be a good starting number,” Comerford said.
With Comerford running the Maritime portion of the merger, current Health Sciences boys basketball coach Ty Parker has been spearheading that school’s efforts.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Comerford said. “With the merger and being brand new, I’m sure we’ll take some lumps. There’ll be some growing pains and logistical issues most schools don’t have to worry about. But I think once we get past the first year, get past the funding and operational aspects, it’ll all get in line.”
Securing that funding for all new equipment is the main focus at the moment for those involved. The team currently has no nickname but will sport a navy blue, red and white color scheme.
— Ty Parker (@Wizard6130) January 23, 2018
Also on the to-do list is finding assistant coaches and, more importantly, a place to practice and play.
A field house is scheduled to be built at Maritime Middle School at 102 Buffum St. in South Buffalo this summer, and Comerford added that there’s plans to build a complete football field with bleachers and lights at that site in the future.
“We’re not positive yet,” Comerford said, “but if we have to play all road games in the first year before we get a field then that’s what we’ll do. Right now it’s just focusing on securing our funding for everything like helmets, jerseys and pads.”
As for this year’s schedule, it depends on which classification the state determines Health Sciences/WNY Maritime will play in.
The merger puts the team right on the fence between Class A and B, Stoldt said. “The state should approve them by this week, so we should know more by early next week when it comes to division alignments.”
Regardless of the state’s decision, Comerford wants to take on all comers. Starting in year one.
“I requested the section to play Canisius and Canisius is on board,” Comerford said. “I know we have to satisfy our sectional schedule, but we’ll play anyone at any time. We’re not looking to play easy games. We’re going to try to build it a different way.”
Comerford, one of the all-time great athletes in Timon history, took over the football program at his alma mater in 2011. He succeeded Jim Palano as athletic director the following year and continued coaching the football team until June of 2017, when he resigned from both posts.
The main factor in Comerford’s resignation was Michele Battin being removed as Timon's principal.
“If people knew the stuff she did on a daily basis to keep the school viable, they would be astonished,” Comerford wrote in July via the @TimonFootball Twitter account, which has since been changed to @WNYMaritime. “In my opinion, Timon cannot absorb losing a leader like Michele. If this is the path the school is taking, I don't want to be a part of it."
Comerford said Monday that he was offered his job back at Timon in early July but his position on why he resigned in the first place hadn’t changed.
Timon announced on July 14 it hired former University at Buffalo and Williamsville South star Joe Licata as its new AD and football coach.
“I wanted to wait until I had a perfect job offer with the right school and the right people,” Comerford said, “and Maritime offered me that.”
The athletic director position at Maritime didn’t open until the middle of August. Comerford’s uncle, Larry Astyk, was the commandant at the school until he retired two years ago, so he always felt a connection.
“Our current commandant, Mrs. (Catherine) Oldenberg, when she interviewed me we talked about adding football,” Comerford said. “I don’t think I’d get back into being an AD if football wasn’t involved, and it’s something that Maritime definitely wanted.
“They’re doing a great thing with the kids here, the enrollment is great and it was something I definitely wanted to do. It was a perfect situation.”