FORT PLAIN – In any profession, a nearly 50-year career at one location is nothing short of amazing.
In the field of education, it’s almost unheard of.
After 49 years at Fort Plain and 45 years as the school district’s athletic director, Charlie Karker has decided not to return next school year.
“There are other things that I would like to do,” Karker said. “When you see some of your former students retiring before you do, it makes you think ‘what’s wrong with this picture.'”
One thing that Karker was less than eager to do was talk about his many accomplishments, though his fellow Western Athletic Conference athletic directors were more than happy to do so.
“If he had it his way, Charlie would have preferred to ride off into the sunset with an email announcing his retirement at the conclusion of the school year, so as to avoid any sort of recognition,” Canajoharie athletic director Brian Dunn said. “I know he doesn’t want the attention, but a man who has dedicated his life to education and athletics for the last four-plus decades deserves every second of recognition we can give him.”
Dunn said that Karker’s departure will leave a void in the Western Athletic Conference, which Karker has been a part of since its inception in 2001.
“Charlie has been an invaluable asset for the Western Athletic Conference, and the Tri-Valley League before that, for many years. As school districts and athletic directors have come and gone in the WAC, Charlie has always been the steady presence in the room. If there is ever a question about what was done in the past or why we do things a certain way, whether that be in our league, in Section II, or even in the NYSPHSAA, Charlie always has the answer,” Dunn said “His wit always draws a laugh from the room during our meetings, especially our virtual meetings during the pandemic in which Charlie always seemed to have issues with his microphone and had to rely on hand gestures and facial expressions to get his point across. The WAC is what it is today because of Charlie, and we will miss his guidance and wisdom. Charlie has meant so much to our league that a few years ago we established a sportsmanship award in honor of him and his late wife, Jane. I was fortunate enough to receive that award last year and it is by far the biggest honor I’ve received as an athletic coordinator.”
Dunn was just one of many WAC athletic directors to offer their praise of Karker’s efforts.
“Charlie has been an extremely important person for the Western Athletic Conference, and the Tri-Valley League before that. He is very well respected and has been an absolute pleasure to work with over the years,” Northville athletic director John Karbowski said. “Charlie will do anything for this league and has dedicated his life to doing what is best for student-athletes. His actions often go unnoticed to most people but not to other administrators in the league who know how much he does for our student-athletes. One example of this is the time he volunteers every single year to collect admission at the WAC crossover basketball games at FMCC. His smiling face has been at the front door greeting people as they enter FMCC for several years and this is something that he volunteers to do to help the league.”
Karker, who retiring from teaching several years ago, started in Fort Plain during the 1972-73 school year after starting his career with a year a Susquehanna Valley. He became the Fort Plain athletic director in 1977.
“It’s a 12-month-a-year job,” said Karker, who will be 73 in August.
Karker also has coached cross country since 1973 and track since 1975. In addition to coaching, he has also served on several league and Section II committees. The track and field complex at Fort Plain is named in his honor
“As an athletic director, Charlie is one of the most knowledgeable and passionate leaders of high school athletics. Amongst WAC, and even Section II ADs Charlie is a ‘go-to’ for advice on the best way to do things,” Mayfield athletic director Jon Caraco said. “He always is thinking about what is best for kids and advocates for fairness. I know that I have learned a lot from him in the years that I have worked with him. As a coach, many of the same qualities are evident. Charlie’s teams always compete hard and do things the right way. Charlie is a person that I look up to. Fort Plain, and the WAC are better for having been associated with Charlie.”
For Karker, his career has had plenty of memorable moments.
“There’s so many things to look back on,” he said. “Not just the kids we’ve had over the years, but the teams that have made state tournament runs over the years. We’ve had a lot of different athletes do well in track and field, cross country and wrestling as well. We’ve also had seven college all-Americans at the different levels. We’ve also had a girl [Emily Marsh] who ran cross country for me, who went on to be a cheerleader at Syracuse.”
In addition to many fond memories, Karker also said that Fort Plain helped him face the lowest of lows in 2014.
“After my wife passed away, the community and school were really good support groups for me,” Karker said. “I can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done for me.”
Though it is highly unlikely that he will be replaced in terms of his impact, Karker said that he is helping with the search for his replacement.
“I’m meeting with our superintendent this week to discuss that,” he said. “I’m hoping they let me coach cross country one more year.”