By Mark Abbott
Editor’s note: Today is the fifth part in a seven-part series profiling the 2012 Norwich Sports Hall of Fame induction class. The author of today’s article, Mark Abbott, was Charlie Wightman’s high school varsity basketball and baseball coach.
Mark Abbott first met Charlie Wightman in the summer of 1981 when he couldn’t have been more than five or six years old. Little did Abbott know what their relationship would grow and develop into.
Charlie’s sister’s father and Abbott played on the same fast-pitch softball team (the infamous Ray Lodge) and we went to a tournament in Rochester (NY). Charlie tagged along for the weekend and he and Abbott hung out quite a bit, playing catch whenever the opportunity arose.
As Charlie progressed through the youth sports programs in Norwich (Pop Warner, Little League, YMCA Travel Team) his accomplishments certainly caught the eyes of the coaches, particularly Abbott and Coach (Bob) Branham. “When he reached middle school, we decided to put him on the fast path to success,” Abbott said.
As an eighth-grader, Charlie played both junior varsity basketball and baseball. As a freshman, he played both junior varsity football and basketball, though he came within a whisker of making the varsity basketball team.
“The plan devised by Coach Branham and me was to keep that sophomore group (Josh Jankowsky, Jason Robitelle and Drew Seiler) together with the four freshmen (Pete Burton, Jason James, Bobby Lazor and Charlie) for an entire season,” Abbott said. “They had never all played together before, and there was a lot of talent there, we wanted to see what they could do.”
What they did was merely go 20-0 and win the STAC JV championship. Was this a prelude of things to come in the future?
Charlie did make his first varsity appearance, earning the first of his ten varsity letters, in the spring of 1991 on the baseball team. The sweet swinging lefty batted .328 and earned the first of his four consecutive appearances as a STAC baseball all-star.
But it was in his sophomore year, 1991-’92, that Charlie really began to blossom and it was also then when the area’s sports world would really began to take notice. Though the majority of this article will look at Charlie’s basketball career – as that is where most of his statistical information is available – he was a dynamic three-sport athlete, one of the best ever at Norwich High School.
The 1991 football season saw Norwich finish with a 7-2-1 overall record. Charlie had four receptions for 113 yards (28.3) and scored a pair of touchdowns, a 56-yarder against Chenango Valley and a two-yarder against Dryden. The big play touchdown would be a staple of Charlie’s throughout his three seasons on the varsity.
The 1991-’92 basketball season saw the team finish with a 16-5 overall record, 12-3 in STAC, and they won Norwich’s first division championship in almost 20 years. The Purple Tornado lost to Elmira Free Academy in the Section IV Class B semifinals though Charlie scored a team-high 23 points. Elmira Free Academy would eventually play in Glens Falls, a trip that Norwich would make a total of four times over the next two seasons.