Most of us can recall a favorite teacher or coach from our school years – one who made such an impression on our lives that their guidance and encouragement has never left us. For numerous Liberty alumni and teachers, Charles “Woody” Witherwax is considered one of those outstanding individuals who touched many lives.
“Woody,” as he was affectionately called, began teaching at Liberty high School in 1951. As head football coach, athletic director and physical education teacher, he quickly became known as an innovative, concerned educator and a fair, hard working and well prepared coach.
Witherwax’s coaching style made an impression on the assistant coaches and the physical education teachers he hired. The words “incredibly organized” come up time and again upon speaking to his colleagues, whom he mentored and respected.
His record as a coach was phenomenal – he had a 66% win record and two UCAL league championships from 1961 through 1973. His colleagues claim that it was his meticulous attention to detail that helped him succeed, and it was common for him to prepare a detailed, time specific and diagrammed lesson plan to be followed by all coaches. On game days, he used a color-coded chart to ensure that all 30-35 players had a chance to play in every game he coached.
This style and culture carried over to his physical education classes as well, and he made sure that even those students who didn’t excel in the standard sports were able to find pleasure in non-traditional ones. It was not uncommon of him to take his students to Newburgh, NY on weekends so that they could compete in interscholastic badminton, volleyball, ping pong and bowling tournaments.
During his tenure, he saw the creation of co-ed gym classes, which were a major change from the traditionally separate classes for boys and girls. He also was the first coach to utilize the new sports venue when the high school on Buckley Street was built.
Outside of school, his passions included fly fishing and snowmobiling with his wife Jean, and he was among the first owners of a snowmobile in Liberty. He was a member of the Sullivan County Parks and Recreation Commission for numerous years, and helped create and shape recreation activities and venues for the communities’ use and enjoyment.
Mr. Witherwax dedicated his life to working with the students of Liberty High School and being a role model to his fellow coaches and teachers. The respect he held for others was mirrored in the respect that students, teachers and members of the Liberty community held for him as well.