When he arrived in 1991, the Blue Devils had zero state titles but he leaves the district with 16 championships and a legacy of dedication
When Ron Whitcomb arrived on the campus of Victor schools in 1991, there wasn’t much to keep him busy. Yes, there was a football field, a couple of soccer pitches and the baseball and softball diamonds, but that is standard routine for nearly anyone who is an athletic director.
"We had no lights on the fields and my biggest problem was killing bees in the press box of the football field," joked Whitcomb, 63. "We had the worst facilities in Section V … By late fall, our soccer fields had no grass and we had one grounds guy with a tractor and a mower."
How times have changed. And as Whitcomb reflects on a 27-year-career as AD that officially ended when he closed his office door on Friday, he heads into retirement just like all the Victor coaches and athletes who have won so many championships: Prepared.
"I’m ready," said Whitcomb. "I am. It’s all been great."
Not many can argue with the greatness part of that statement. Victor was a school of about 2,000 students in 1991. Today, there are around 4,500 and the athletic success of the Blue Devils is the envy of Section V.
But if that doesn’t offer a look at how much the district has grown, this will: Victor now has four full-time grounds people who work summer grounds and plow snow. And the district has six tractors, six large mowers and six or seven Gators, said Chris Marshall, Director of Facilities at Victor.
Keeping the grounds crew and Victor coaches busy this school year is an athletics program that won Section V championships in girls volleyball, girls tennis, hockey, cheerleading, boys lacrosse, baseball and softball. Three of those teams, hockey, cheerleading and softball won state titles and another, boys lacrosse, lost in the state championship.
It was an impressive year to cap an impressive run under Whitcomb that’s seen Victor teams win 232 league titles, 185 Section V titles and 16 state championships. And as impressive as that may be, it’s not what Whitcomb is most proud of when it comes to his job.
The national recognition of the physical education program is what really makes Whitcomb smile. Athletes on the school’s teams already know the importance of physical fitness. But the PE curriculum touches every student in the district and those are lessons he hopes students can carry with them for a lifetime.
"I’m very proud of that," he said of a PE program that in 2004 was named best in the nation.
The growth of the Victor district is well-chronicled and with that comes greater opportunity. To that end, Victor under Whitcomb has added boys lacrosse (1995), girls lacrosse (1998), hockey (2000), girls bowling (2002), alpine skiing (2004) and girls golf (2016). One of the points to notice in that growth of opportunity is the growth of girls sports at Victor. It’s not by accident.
"He’s always doing the best he can to support the teams," said girls soccer coach Kelly Ahern. "He’s always saying ‘we’ll make it work.’ "
Of course, adding a team isn’t the end of the work, either. There are schedules to coordinate, practice times inside and outside to balance and officials to schedule for games. And if you’ve attended Victor athletic contests, boys or girls, chances are good you’ve seen Whitcomb at a game.
"His presence is a big thing," said Ahern. "For coaches and players, you can’t ask for much more. He comes to games and he talks and hangs out with the players. You don’t see that everywhere. He talks to the girls just like he talks to the boys. To him, there is no gender."
When it comes to explaining the success of Victor teams under Whitcomb, it’s not easy. The growth of the district necessitated a move from the smaller Finger Lakes League to the Monroe County League, where Whitcomb said the higher level of competition made the Blue Devils better. But with that came the need for coaches who understood.
And for Whitcomb, that understanding goes beyond schemes and game plans.
"We have coaches who have good relationships with the kids," he said. "They’re great communicators, highly organized and passionate about what they do.
"It’s great to teach Xs and Os, but what’s the message? What about character and sportsmanship? Do we want to win? Yeah, but we want to do it the right way. So across the board, with our coaches, we’re fortunate."
That success was encapsulated just this week by Victor being named winner of the annual Kerr Cup. The award, presented by the New York State Sportswriters Assocation, compiles points based on state tournament appearances and advancement in them. Victor didn’t just become the first Section V school to win this award, it did so with a record number of points (73) and largest margin of victory.
So where does Whitcomb go from here? He admits being retired hasn’t quite hit him yet and probably won’t until Monday morning.
"It’s a weird, weird feeling," he said. "I’ve been in education for 42 years and I’ve been going to school my whole life. It’s just such a different feeling and it probably won’t hit me until I’m not coming in anymore."
As Whitcomb walks away, there no doubt are reflections on the program he helped build into the giant that it is among Section V and state scholastic sports. But now, it’s time to relax.
"For the first six months, I’d like to do nothing," he said. "I want to take long bike rides, I want to kayak and learn to golf. I want to play hard. I’ve worked hard and people who know me know I’m pretty intense at work. So now, it’s time to play."
It might be difficult to imagine Whitcomb doing "nothing" and even if he follows through with it, it won’t last long. But no matter how long he spends "doing nothing," it’s a break that’s well-deserved.