HALL OF FAME CLASS XII: Stan Bergman
On Bergman’s plaque: A four-time EARC Coach of the Year, he made an immediate impact as head coach, leading the Quakers to their best season in 16 years with an 8-1 Cup record, an Ivy Championship and silver medals at the Amsterdam Invitational and the Henley Royal Regatta in its only second season. His 1990 varsity eight ended in an 8-0 cup record, only the second in Penn history. Won IRA National Championship titles in 1989 and 1992 and four Eastern Sprints titles (1986, 1991, 1996, 1998). In all, he collected 110 victories in his 22 years and coached five rowers who later took part in the Olympic Games.
The Penn Athletics Hall of Fame Class XII induction ceremony will be held on Saturday, May 7th at The Inn at Penn.
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By Marc Narducci
Stan Bergman’s record alone put him into the Hall of Fame, but the essence of his success goes well beyond the W’s and championships as Penn’s heavyweight rowing coach from 1984-2006.
At age 22, he won the collegiate national championship after winning the prestigious Cincinnati Regatta in 1991. He also led Penn to IRA championships in 1989 and 1992, an Ivy League championship, and an 8-1 Cup season while they competed in the Henley Royal Regatta and the Amsterdam Invitational, where the Quakers finished second in both. In 1990, he surpassed that feat by leading Penn to an 8-0 cup record, only the second in Quaker turbulent history.
Under his leadership, Penn won four Eastern Sprints titles – 1986, 1991, 1996 and 1998. The top Ivy League team in the Eastern Sprints is considered the Ivy League champion. Bergman has won 110 career victories in 22 years as Quaker leader.
It’s such a brilliant resume that he was given the honor of being inducted into the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame under 11 at a ceremony at The Inn at Penn on May 7th.
Bergman’s many achievements are fitting tributes, but how he accomplished his accomplishments is even more impressive, especially to those whose lives he touched. Whether it was one of the five Olympians he coached or the person at the bottom of the depth chart, Bergman used a simple but apt strategy: He made everyone on the team feel special.
“Stan’s story is about the impact he had on so many people and that translates into hopefully touching others,” said Mike Peterson, born in 1989 and later a 1996 Olympics competitor. “He made the world a better place and didn’t waste this opportunity as a coach. He made such a difference in people’s lives, and not many people can say that about themselves.”
Garrett Miller, a 1999 Penn graduate who competed in the 2000 Olympics, had a similar experience.
“Everyone I knew who rowed for Stan said that rowing for Penn was like a great experience in the sport, with a side of ‘Life 101,'” Miller said. “What an amazing person he is.”
The secret was getting the best out of his rowers.
“He was able to win without a heavily recruited class, although I was the exception to that rule,” Miller said. “He took guys who were athletic but had little rowing experience and was able to win.”
When Bergman had a star rower like Miller, he also knew how to get the best out of them.
“Part of the reason I’ve been successful is because Coach Bergman has really supported me in my efforts,” Miller said. “My experience with other coaches is that they would drive you into the ground, but he gave me the freedom and understood the mentality of the top athlete. He cared so much about everyone and that was key.”
Bergman’s passion for the sport stood out whether he was coaching an early morning workout or at some of the biggest competitions the sport had to offer.
“Just the experience of being there, I loved going to work every day,” Bergman said.
Bergman wasn’t a rower growing up himself, simply because the sport didn’t exist when he attended Atlantic City (NJ) High School and graduated in 1959. Instead, he was a football, basketball, and baseball player. He played baseball at Glassboro State College, now Rowan University.
Later he became a club rower and got to know the intricacies of the sport there. But the reason he was so well connected to both the stars and the lesser contributors is because Bergman has been both throughout his athletic career.
After his first season as a baseball player in Glassboro State, Bergman signed a baseball contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. There wasn’t a Major League Baseball draft at that point, so he could sign with anyone. The Dodgers were the team that inked him thanks to a $4,000 signing bonus.
In 1962 he began his career in the minor league. He was 21 years old and had big dreams, a catcher with a rifle arm and a powerful bat. At age 23, he was an unemployed baseball player who was fired by the Dodgers after playing less than two seasons in the minors.
Bergman initially caught himself in the minors but was moved to the outfield and even attempted to pitch to no avail. He had given his big league dream a chance, but now he had to change course.
“The competition among the minors was incredible,” Bergman said.
He taught at various schools in the Jersey Shore area — with an emergency teaching certificate — while completing his education at Glassboro State. Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, NJ started a rowing program in 1966 and Bergman became the first head coach. (He also helps out as a volunteer coach at Holy Spirit to this day.)
After several years as a high school coach, Bergman spent a season as an assistant at Columbia and then returned to Holy Spirit to resume coaching and teaching. He became a freshman coach at Penn in 1977, stayed there for two and a half years, and returned to Holy Spirit again until 1984, when he was hired as Penn’s head coach.
The rest is rowing history.
One of the reasons his former rowers remain so loyal is the way Bergman treated them throughout their careers.
“Rowing under Stan Bergman was not just a win for me as a student athlete, it was a win for my entire life,” Miller said. “Take the things and lessons we learned from him to heart; they are timeless and in this day and age they are needed.”
While all the wins and titles are impressive, the lasting impression he made on his rowers has a much bigger impact.
“A lot of coaches focus on winning and he obviously wanted to win but for Stan the most important thing was that people left him better than he found them and that to me is his greatest gift,” said Peterson. “I’m trying to do this using my life as an example.”
Bergman, who will turn 81 on May 30, is a married father of four who has also worked with the Ventnor (NJ) City Beach Patrol for 64 years, initially as a lifeguard. In 1987 he was appointed Chief of the Ventnor Beach Patrol, a position he still holds today.
In other words, he doesn’t slow down and he can’t stay away from the water.
This induction into the Hall of Fame means a lot to Bergman, but he’s still trying so humbly to postpone recognition.
“It’s a great honor, but it’s all about the student athletes that I’ve coached,” Bergman said of his rowers. “The reason I’m there is because of them.”
He said the greatest gift has been the lifelong relationship he has enjoyed with his rowers.
“I loved and respected these guys, they were great young men who worked so hard in a tough sport that requires discipline,” he said. “The great thing for me is that they are friends for life. If they would graduate, I would have tears in my eyes.”
These emotions are likely displayed by his former rowers during induction into Bergman’s Hall of Fame.
David Pottruck C’70 WG’72
Jesse Carlin C’08 GR’14