Editor’s note: Retired Norwich physical education teacher and coach, George Echentile, will be honored by the local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America at the Distinguished Citizen Award Banquet on May 12, 2011. Below is a summary of Echentile’s Norwich career. The article was researched and written by Jim Dunne of Norwich.
George Echentile first came to Norwich in 1949, fresh out of Springfield College where he had obtained a degree in physical education in three years. Before that, he had served two years as a radioman-gunner in a Naval dive-bomber squadron after graduating from high school in Leonia, New Jersey.
George’s first job in Norwich was as Physical Director of the YMCA, a position he held from 1949 until 1953. At that time, he went to Lewiston, Maine, to serve as Director of Christian Education for the United Baptist Church. Religion has always been important to George, and while in Maine he took classes at the Union Theological Seminary.
In 1954, George returned to his old job at the YMCA in Norwich, supplementing it with a physical education position at St. Paul’s School one day a week. In 1957, he became the physical-ed teacher at Gibson school, a position he held for over 39 years. In that same year, he became head of the Norwich’s summer recreation program, holding that position until 1984.
Norwich’s first varsity swim team dove into the waters of the short Y pool in 1960, with Coach Echentile in charge. Practice took place at 6 every morning. Only George could inspire youngsters to trek to the Y on cold, dark mornings five days a week. In 1964, with the opening of the new high school, the team was rewarded with a full-length pool. George continued to coach the NHS swim team until 1987, producing successful teams and outstanding swimmers. A special committee chaired by Kurt Beyer petitioned the Board of Education, and on Echentile Recognition Day, May 16, 1987, the high school pool was officially dedicated as the NHS Echentile Pool.
Shortly after starting the varsity swim team, George organized a state-wide championship swim meet sponsored by the Norwich Elks Club. This meet was held annually at the Kurt Beyer pool on a July weekend, and each year drew 450 swimmers from all over the State. With many events and age groups, it required careful planning and execution that only George’s organizational and leadership skills could provide. Always upbeat, never rattled, he made sure that everything went smoothly. In addition, he coached the Y summer swim team, maintaining interest with camping trips and fun excursions – and driving the bus. These Y teams became the developmental program for both boys’ and girls’ varsity swim teams.
In 1970, George, who had provisional certification in special education, chaired the swimming committee for the Special Olympics held in Oneonta. He stayed in touch with his swimmers and students with a newsletter three times a year. When “his boys” returned to Norwich for a visit, they were sure to stop at the Echentile home to catch up on the events in their classmates’ lives.
George was active in the First Baptist Church, teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, and advising the Young People’s Group. In 1985, he was recognized at the National Camping Centennial held at the Y Camp In 1970 he received the Honor Award from the NYS Coaches Association, and in 1980 he was named Man of the Year by the March of Dimes. He received the Outstanding Employee award from the City in 1984, and was chosen Teacher of the Year in 1970 and 1975. Some of his best teaching has been done by example.
An outstanding end for the Y Giants for three years when he first arrived in Norwich, George is also proficient on the ukulele, and was the caller when The Foggy Valley Boys played a square dance. He also sang with the Midstatesmen Barbershop Chorus, was a member of the Norwich Youth Commission, a life member of the PTA, and a founder of the Norwich Ski Club. He and his wife Betty, who has been a constant partner in all his endeavors, have four children, Sandy, Martin, Christine, and Rob, six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
The last several years have been frustrating for George, as he has lost his ability to communicate as a result of a stroke. His joy at seeing one of his former swimmers and students, however, is unmistakable, and is always reciprocated. He is a Norwich treasure.