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Devoted Athletic Director, but always a coach at heart; Hamburg’s Cauley to retire at end of y

Dedicated to his job? Here’s a story: Four years ago, Pat Cauley and his wife, Lisa, were in Key West for his brother’s wedding. When they arrived at the airport for the return flight, they had a chance to get bumped to a later flight — with free round-trip tickets anywhere in the United States.

Lisa wanted to jump at the offer. She could take a personal day off of work. The athletic director at Hamburg High School wouldn’t hear of it.

“He said, ‘Absolutely not. I’ve got to get back. I have this game, and this game.’ I won’t say I was real happy about that,” Lisa recalled with a laugh.

But how could a couple of free airplane fares hope to compete with being there for the kids at Hamburg? That’s been Cauley’s driving passion for the last 30 years, as a teacher, coach and, for the last 10-plus years, as the devoted AD.

People in local high school sports know Pat Cauley as an ever-present force for children, a man who felt a responsibility to every student at Hamburg, who will stand in the hallway outside his office between classes to greet kids by name — and not just the athletes — to ask how things are going in their lives.

Cauley has a long list of beliefs as an educator — helping kids to learn from mistakes, instilling them with confidence, being a life-long learner and treating the kids at the end of the bench the same as the stars. 

Most vital of all was simply being there. He’s always made it a point to stop by every team that’s practicing on school grounds on a given day. It’s been an all-consuming job, which is the only way Cauley knows how to do it. But there comes a time when it can no longer be a 24-7 commitment when you accept that it’s time to step back and take the bump to a simpler life.

So at age 56, he’ll step away from the job that has consumed him for a decade. Cauley, who was honored as Section VI athletic director of the year by the state Athletic Administrators Association in 2022, will retire at the end of June.

“Mike Cornell (Hamburg superintendent) has been a real positive force for our district and very supportive of what we do in this little part of our education process,” Cauley said. “I told him, ‘I just can’t be on 24-7 anymore.

“There’s many aspects of my job that I still have a ton of juice for. But the 24-7, that’s got to be somebody else. When I’m off, I’m not off. It would be nice to be OFF and not have to worry about what’s going to go on Monday morning, and ‘Do we have to take care of this, and do we have a bus for that?’.”

As his wife would attest, Cauley is incapable of giving anything but his total commitment. He’s been a terrific AD for a decade, but he still identifies as a coach. That’s how people at the high school and in town always refer to him, as Coach Cauley. The joke is that he still coaches every team.

“That’s a huge understatement,” head baseball coach Derek Hill said with a laugh. Hill became a teacher and coach at Hamburg right out of college 21 years ago. He’s been learning from Cauley from the start, and calls him “our North Star … our rock.”

“He spends more time in our dugout than I do half the time,” said Hill, who led the Bulldogs to the state Class A finals a year ago. “When outfielders come off the field, he’ll grab them and talk about their read on a fly ball. A guy comes back to the dugout after an at-bat and he’ll talk to them about their approach, their mindset, what they were trying to accomplish.

“It’s a pretty short list of ADs who are able and willing to do that. He just never forgot what it was like to be in our shoes. What makes him so special is he’s always been able to empathize with us, no matter the circumstances, the highs and lows and everything in-between.”

Cauley knows about a young athlete’s striving. He was a star on the great Sweet Home teams of the early 1980s. He won state championships in baseball (1983) and basketball (1984). He played football. He was a very good hockey player, but gave up the sport in high school to ease financial strains at home.

He was actually a five-sport athlete in his day. Cauley didn’t run in high school, but he walked onto the Cortland State cross country team and a year later finished fifth in the country and was a college all-American.

But it’s those high school days that are most precious. They prepared Cauley for life. It’s not so much about wins and losses, though Hamburg teams have won their share. As an educator, it’s about making a difference in a child’s life.

Cauley learned by watching the late Bob Barczak run the athletic program at Sweet Home, and from Chuck Amo, who hired Pat when he was Hamburg AD and section chairman 30 years ago. When Amo died last May, Cauley said he owed everything to Amo for taking a chance on a raw teacher and coach.

“We’re the adults, they’re the children,” Cauley said. “We have to understand that as we go through this process. Athletics is a great teacher. The only thing sure in an athletic season is we’ll face adversity, and how do we handle that, how do we manage our way through that? That’s where the growth occurs.

“How do we know in education when we give a kid a consequence if it’s effective? We know by giving them another chance to be in a similar situation and make a better decision. I’m all about that.

“I say to my coaches, ‘You want to know how effective you are, ask the last three players on our roster,’” Cauley said. “Does coach care about me? Does he make me feel like I’m a valuable member? That was always important to me. Man, so many wonderful people. Not just the young people. The referees, the other coaches. You know, it’s humbling. It’s humbling.”

Cauley keeps one of his high school state title rings in his office. Not to gloat, he says, but to remind Hamburg players what can happen if you bond together and play hard and sacrifice. Those old Sweet Home kids grew up together in the elementary leagues. They learned to compete and aspire to a standard.

He speaks with at least one of his former high school teammates — who know him as ‘P.J.’ — every day. It’s generally one of three who went on to be successful coaches: Mike Torrillo, Jim Kwitchoff and Paul Schintzius.

“What I admire about P.J. is his commitment to all sports at all levels,” said Kwichoff, who was an assistant hoop coach at UB under Reggie Witherspoon for 14 seasons. “As an athletic director, sometimes you can fall into that trap of focusing on the higher-profile sports and leaving behind some of the others that don’t get as much attention.

“With P.J., it’s almost just the opposite. He’s so sensitive to ensuring every single athlete feels special. He’ll go out of his way to make sure the bowling teams get everything they need, just like anybody else would for the football team or the varsity boys basketball team. He’s focused on every sport — boys, girls, varsity, JV, modified. They’re all going to get his attention.”

Lisa said she’s honestly in awe of her husband’s devotion to the kids at Hamburg. She was telling her mother recently that it’s not just the athletes, but all the kids who get his attention in the hall after the bell rings between classes.

“Even cheerleading,” said Lisa, an occupational therapist in the Hamburg schools. “He’s been there for their competitions. I was with them a couple of times when he visited the cheerleaders during their practice and was giving them the pep talk before competitions and things.”

Cauley said his lone regret as a retiring educator is that, “I wish I wasn’t such a young educator when I was a young educator.” That’s part of life, wishing you had the wisdom of years as a younger person. Hill said Cauley has impressed on him the virtues of being a life learner, willing to take on new challenges.

“Many of us, adults included, aren’t sure what we’re capable of until we’re really challenged and have to toe the line, so to speak,” Cauley said. “I want to give children an experience to grow and develop.” He and Lisa didn’t have children of their own. She says Pat would have been a great dad. After all, she’s watched him be a father figure to hundreds of kids over the years. Pat gets emotional when he talks about Lisa being a sort of den mother to his players, hosting them as their home and being there for them.

“We never felt like we were missing anything with not having our own children,” Lisa said, “because we were surrounded by so many kids, and we had so much love with those children and those teams. Even their families are part of our extended family.

“We never felt that we missed out, because we knew we were so rich with the kids that we had around us. I always call them my boys. We’re planning this party for him at the end of June.”

Cauley wants to be roasted at the retirement party. Kwitchoff, one of the few people who still call him ‘Goober’, will surely have material ready. But it also promises to be an emotional day. Former players will visit, some from out of town. Pat said he’s been moved lately by the outpouring of texts and calls thanking him for making a difference through the years.

He was near tears reading a text that arrived the morning of an interview at the high school, from a former student who suffered from cerebral palsy and appreciated how Cauley had made him feel a vital part of his team.

“I have experience in working with our children in the realm of athletics for 90 seasons (fall, winter and spring),” Pat said, his voice rising. “I haven’t coached all 90 seasons, but I’ve been involved in some way, shape or form. Many of which I was coaching, but the ones I wasn’t, I was still coaching.

“Then you factor in the summertime, that’s 120 seasons,” he said. “But it has been such a joy for me, and it’s been so fulfilling. Especially now. When I announced that I was going to be done, the people that reached out — students you maybe haven’t thought about in a while, saying, ‘Coach Cauley, you made a difference.’ That’s really all I need.

“When I look in the mirror, I can say I did the very best I could with every kid in every situation at that time.”

You don’t give it up that easily. Cauley has a lot to offer, and he will almost certainly coach again. Maybe as a consultant. Maybe in Hamburg, but perhaps somewhere else. But he’ll do it on his terms, imparting years of wisdom to young athletes but without it consuming his entire existence.

He’ll have more time to play golf. He and Lisa, who plans to retire after one more year, will “find our little niche,” as Pat puts it. They’ll have more time to travel, one of their passions. They’ve traveled a lot around the U.S., but Lisa has more global ambitions — like London, Paris and Rome.

“I’m already anticipating having to go around to this or that game in the future,” Lisa said. “But I did tell him, ‘You’ve got to give up a year or two when we’re both retired to do some traveling’ before he commits to any coaching jobs.”

One thing is for sure. The next time the Cauleys get offered a bump and two free plane tickets, they’re going for it.

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