Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hoffman’s presence at Twin Ponds will be missed

Donald Hoffman told me he never saw anyone eat as many cheeseburgers as me.

That was about 30 or so years ago, when my waistline was a svelte 30 inches, or many, many noticeable inches less than it is today … when I couldn’t wait to finish a round of golf at Twin Ponds G.C. to get into the clubhouse and devour at least four of those cheeseburgers (seven, if I recall, was my record for one sitting).

Donald Hoffman also told me I had to be a good guy because of my first name (it took me awhile to get that because at the time I only knew him as Mr. Hoffman).

But the one thing I did get from the very first time I strolled into that clubhouse to pay my greens fees at Twin Ponds was that Donald Hoffman was a little different.

Friendly, so sociable, very gracious … he had that panache.

At the time, I had been playing golf for a few years, maybe five tops. But thanks in part to the rest of my usual foursome – Chris Grater, Jim Golie and Doug Wunder – I had the opportunity to get a round in on countless courses, both private and public, throughout the Delaware Valley.

My first visit to Twin Pounds was entirely different from all of them, though.

Different, that is, because of Donald Hoffman.

How he knew it was my first time at Twin Ponds I had no idea. I knew no one told him. Later, of course, I discovered he knew, or got to know, everyone who played his course.

But the way he greeted me, with a smile and simple ”Welcome” wasn’t something I would soon forget. Nor would I soon forget how he approached me after that first round and asked my how I liked the course.

How ironic it is that now, 30 or so years later – and just over a week since Donald Hoffman died – that I still remember that first visit … quite vividly, too.

Over the next 10 or so years, our group always got in a handful or two of rounds at Twin Ponds. A tee box or two was added here and there, as were some bushes, and the trees got taller. But the course was always immaculate – inviting fairways, manageable rough, and true-read greens – and as fair as any a hacker or low-handicapper could want.

The idea of knowing you had an opportunity to put up a low number (which wasn’t always the case, mind you) was al

ways enough to bring you back for another round … or so I once thought.

What brought most of us back was Donald Hoffman.

Everyone knew it, because after converting a farm on the property into Twin Ponds back in 1963, Donald Hoffman saw to it that he had more than just a course that would be measured beyond the yards it played to or the shots it required. His family followed his plan to the letter, and he made sure anyone else – from the cooks in the kitchen and part-time help picking up broken tees around the course all the way up to the course superintendent — did as well.

Donald Hoffman’s plan? As simple as it gets — be nice to those who walk in the front door, provide them a course that’s worth every cent they paid to play it, and always be grateful they did.

In today’s business world, that sure sounds like a lot of malarkey. Pure gibberish some would say. Maybe that’s why so many businesses, the bottom-line-only and get-me-rich-quick businesses, have failed, and why many like them will continue to fail in the not-so-distant future.

Donald Hoffman was no agronomist and, as far as I know, he didn’t have a college degree.

But was he ever the intellectual.

His building of a golf course, his no-shortcuts approach to nurturing and maintaining it, and his genuine compassion to those who came to play it, is the reason Twin Ponds has been – for 47 years now –a course that few can or will ever measure up to.


OJR’s dream season comes to abrupt end

ALTOONA — When Owen J. Roberts dropped its season-opener, 7-5 to non-league rival Downingtown West, senior shortstop Brandon Engelhardt made sure no one dropped their heads.

Yes, there was a lot of experience, and a whole heck of a lot of talent in the Wildcats’ lineup, and of which added up to high hopes and high expectations. But a loss a season does not make.

“I just told everybody forget about (the loss),” Engelhardt said recently. “I told them no one is going to remember that game.”

The Wildcats forgot about it in a hurry.

But forgetting about Friday afternoon’s 7-0 loss to former Ches-Mont League

rival Henderson in the PIAA-Class AAAA final here at Blair County Ballpark ... well, that may take some time.

Owen J. Roberts — which won its second straight Pioneer Athletic Conference title, regrouped after a District 1 semifinal setback to Council Rock North to qualify for the state tournament, then strung together three very impressive wins over Pleasant Valley, South Western and Lower Dauphin to earn its first appearance in the state final - simply wasn’t itself.

Junior Tim Ponto, who virtually came out of nowhere to become the Wildcats’ ace this spring, wasn’t himself. The defense behind him, which was a pick-me-up for whomever was on the mound this spring, committed two errors that led to two unearned runs. And the offense, which had provided more than enough support for all of the arms this spring by averaging just over nine runs a game, couldn’t find the holes, gaps or fences.

As head coach Greg Gilbert said, “It just wasn’t our day.”

It couldn’t have been said any better ... on more to the point.

“Henderson was just better than us today,” Engelhardt said. “The whole game it just seemed as though were were waiting for something to ignite. But we didn’t even get a spark. We hit the ball. We didn’t strike out that much. We just hit the ball at people.”

“It was one of those days you hit the ball hard but right at someone,” added senior left fielder Paul Kochu. “We got some runners on the bases, but...”

The Wildcats had three on in the first and two on in each of the following three innings. But after getting on, no matter where they hit the ball Henderson was able to smother it. Credit southpaw Kyle Hooven with making good pitches when he had to, and the Warriors defense with making the routine as well as not-so-routine plays when they had to.

Shutting out Owen J. Roberts is no small accomplishment, mind you.

Not when you consider it’s a team that went into Friday’s game with seven players hitting over .400 this spring.

And, don’t forget, it was a team that hadn’t been blanked the entire spring, either.

“We came here to win, so we’re disappointed,” Gilbert said. “But we’re only going to be disappointed for a short time. These guys have to be happy with all they’ve accomplished this season. This hurts now, but you can’t focus on just that last game at the end.

“It’s going to take some time because it takes so much to get to this stage. So when you finally get here and you don’t win it stings. In time, they’ll realize what their accomplishments and look back at the season in a positive way.”

The seniors — Dan Endy, Engelhardt, Kochu, Steve Piskai, David Vining, Jake Tammaro, Mogan Watkins, Jeff Wiand and Andew Wilkes — for the most part, had been playing together for some time. Most were part of the Little League team that made it to the state final, part of the Junior Legion team that won the state final, and part of last three American Legion teams that finished among the top three in Pennsylvania the last three summers.

“We wanted this state title,” Engelhardt said. “But just playing alongside all these guys, the members of this team... I’ll remember my teammates more than the outcome today. I’ve been proud to have been part of all this.”

“We’ve all been close for a long time,” Kochu added. “I think that helped us get where we wanted to go, where we were today.”

The friendships, the commaraderie, helped them forget that first loss back in March. In time, it’ll help them forget that last loss on Friday.

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OJR great Bernat a fitting presence in Ches-Mont Hall of Fame

COATESVILLE – Henry Bernat was never one who subscribed to those long-winded pregame pep talks. Come to think of it, he didn’t do all that much hooting and hollering during or after games, either.

He didn’t have to.

His presence, and his presence alone, was enough.

Bernat didn’t just know football, he understood it. His appreciation for the game, combined with his ability to empathize with the two generations of student-athletes who played it at Owen J. Roberts, was so extraordinary.

If you were fortunate to play for him, as so many of his Wildcats have acknowledged through the years, you were indeed blessed to learn how to play one of sports’ great games the right way … and not by just a great coach, but by a great man.

Bernat’s character was secured by integrity, reinforced by honor.

He never sacrificed either for the sake of success. And the hundreds upon hundreds of Wildcats who listened to his every word and followed his every move throughout 31 years of long practices, grueling camps and very physical games – nearly 350 of them in all – will attest to that.

And every one of them will admit that it was Bernat, because of his unwavering loyalty to them, who was responsible for turning a team that at one time had just enough players for an intra-squad scrimmage into a very successful and proud program that was known and respected throughout Pennsylvania … and that’s known and respected well before every fan, critic and ranking expert from every neighborhood in the state was connected by the internet.

So it was no surprise Bernat was inducted into the Pennsylvania Football Coaches Hall of Fame less than a year after he retired from Owen J. Roberts – the first area coach to receive the prestigious honor. It was no surprise when he was inducted into the Tri-County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame the following year, either.

Needless to say, it was no surprise when Bernat was inducted into the Chest-Mont League Hall of Fame during Monday night’s annual banquet at Coatesville Country Club.

Ches-Mont football kicked off nine years prior to Bernat’s rookie season in 1960. Conestoga, Downingtown, Phoenixville and Pottstown pretty much had their way during that period, accounting for every one of those first nine titles.

Little changed – with the exception of Boyertown, Coatesville and Spring-Ford getting into the championship mix – throughout the 60s.

Owen J. Roberts, one of the smallest schools in the league at that time, absorbed its share of lumps, bumps and bruises. There were only three winning seasons, and one wee little glimpse of a Ches-Mont championship when the Wildcats went 7-2-1 in 1967.

Then, if there was a turnaround, or year to mark OJR’s reversal of fortunes, it was 1970. Bernat and the Wildcats won their first Ches-Mont title and finished 10-1 overall.

From that point on, through Bernat’s final season in 1990, the Owen J. Roberts football program was a model of consistency – and excellence. There were seven more Ches-Mont championships (1972, 1975, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987) before Bernat and the Wildcats left the league, and that memorable Pioneer Athletic Conference championship months before Bernat bid farewell to the Wildcats.

Thirty-one seasons … he won eight league championships, compiled a 195-133-17 career record, was named the Coach of the Year eight times by his peers and combined 15 times by the Philadelphia-area media.

But Bernat never once seemed comfortable with those honors, or getting much credit at all for Owen J. Roberts’ success.

There was never a postgame interview or casual conversation away from the football field that he didn’t speak highly – and proudly – of assistants Al Alutius and the late Joe Edwards, both of whom strolled the sidelines with him from Day One, or Moreland Bollinger, Dave Gerber and Ron Pearson. And there was never a postgame interview or casual conversation away from the football field that he didn’t speak highly – and proudly – of his players.

It’s been 20 years since Bernat turned in his playbook as well as the key to his coaches’ room locker and began watching Owen J. Roberts football games from the stands instead of the sidelines. Edwards never hesitated to ask his old friend for some words of wisdom when he took over the program for six years. Neither has current head coach Tom Barr, who set a handful or so of records carrying the football for Bernat back in the late 70s.

Yes, Bernat still sits in on most of Wildcats’ games.

No one appreciates that more than the devoted OJR alumni, who greet him the moment he walks through the gate. They’re grown men now, but with the wide eyes of their youth as they gather around him.

And it doesn’t matter what they talk about – the X’s and O’s he scribbled on the blackboard; the power-left or power-right run game opponents got so tired of defending and so sick of hearing about; the big games and the big wins; the 28-game unbeaten streak; the Thanksgiving battles with Pottstown; all those championship runs – whatever the topic, they all join in the conversation.

Like in the past, Henry Bernat’s presence, and his presence alone, is still enough.


The late Dr. Janet Shaner, a graduate of Pottsgrove High School who made quite an impact in the Ches-Mont as a field hockey and lacrosse coach at West Chester East and as an administrator in the West Chester Area School District, was inducted posthumously.

Shaner won three Ches-Mont championships in field hockey, with her 1980 team finishing second in the state, and compiled a career record of 83-42-17. She won three more Ches-Mont championships in lacrosse, with her 1981 team capturing the District 1 title, and compiled a career record of 76-43-6.

After retiring from coaching as well as teaching, Shaner became an assistant principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent at West Chester before becoming the superintendent of the Weston School District in Connecticut, a position she held for three years before her death.

Shaner was remembered Monday night for her positive attitude, generosity, leadership and enthusiasm, and for her commitment to education and the Ches-Mont League community.

It was also noted that a memorable fund set up in her name back in 2002 – three one-year $1,000 scholarships to a graduating female from East, Henderson and Rustin – has benefited 23 students thus far.

* * *

The remaining two inductees Monday night were the legendary Ross Kershey and Ed Malikowski. … Kershey, who taught at Coatesville for 42 years, coached boys basketball for 22 years and track for 14 years. Kershey guided the Red Raiders’ basketball team to 12 league titles and one District 1 championship, and owned a 462-129 career record. In track, his teams won 13 league and two District 1 titles and swept 103 of 104 dual meets. Malikowski taught at Henderson for 30 years and had served as a cross country and track coach as well as administrator for both sports in the league prior to his retirement.

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