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

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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