With accustomed selflessness, Fred Berg responds to news that he is a hall of famer with, “Well, I was there,” and a broad smile. Mr. Berg played football, basketball, and baseball in high school. He graduated early from The Lawrenceville School because he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he served as a radio operator and rifleman in the Italian campaign of World War II. His service in this campaign earned him a Silver Star and Infantry Combat Badge, and he went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts from Yale. He earned a master’s degree in Spanish from the University of Colorado and taught at several prep schools before coming to St. Stephen's in 1963 as the school’s only Spanish teacher. Mr. Berg not only came bearing great stories with which he would regale students for decades, but he also had an open-door policy and kind sense of humor, which helped make the school a welcome home for hundreds of student-athletes. The Spanish teacher affectionately known as “Señor” always had an ear for the student-athlete and his challenges.
Some schools have a mascot to encourage pride in athletics. Some have a Fred Berg. As St. Stephen’s School grew from its smaller beginnings, Mr. Berg became the godfather of school spirit, introducing a spirit and service organization known as the Red Key Club. He is one of the few individuals at our school to receive two yearbook dedications, in 1969 and 1980. The 1969 “Scroll” mentions: “Through the Red Key and Booster Clubs he has taught us that St. Stephen’s is a school we can be proud of. In our athletic endeavors he has shown us that success only comes through effort and practice. He has taught us what education means by relating it to our personal lives.” The 1980 “Scroll” editors strived “to recognize a man whose immeasurable contributions to the school and its community reflect his love and devotion to St. Stephen’s and its students ... Patient, he is always willing to sacrifice his time and wisdom for the benefit of others.”
Mr. Berg was instrumental in the early days of the St. Stephen’s Basketball Tournament, assisting Al “Sleepy” Thompson with coordinating and hosting the visiting teams, setting up food stands, putting up posters, and supervising all operations of the event. His involvement with the tournament spans nearly its entire history, having served as a judge for more than 25 years. In 1971, the tournament program was dedicated to Mr. Berg.
But it was on the baseball diamond in the mid-1960s where he started serving as a head coach. Catcher Chris Meloni ’79 cites some of the rare qualities that made Coach Berg’s presence on the baseball field a benefit to so many St. Stephen’s students: “After a full year of academic and sports intensity, it was nice to be around a life force that seemed to exude… hope. I’ve had many coaches say, ‘Get out there and have fun,’ but (Mr. Berg) embodied that expression. He brought joy to the game and the season. His coaching style was demanding but always positive. He created an atmosphere I found invigorating and freeing, and I always looked forward to playing for Señor.”
Tad Geschickter ’81 speaks of the level of confidence Coach Berg gave to his players: “He was not only excellent at teaching the fundamentals necessary to be a good baseball player, he was also a positive encourager. Using the skills and confidence that Coach Berg instilled, I was able to earn a baseball scholarship at a Division I program after walking on as a freshman. I eventually became a team captain as a senior and had the opportunity to participate in the Division I Men’s Baseball Championship Tournament. Mr. Berg was such a positive influence that it never occurred to me that I faced long odds in Division I baseball as a walk-on. His style and positive influence made me believe that anything was possible. After all, isn’t that what teaching and coaching are all about?”
Former Latin Teacher and fellow Baseball Coach Charlie Joyce shares that “Every team under Fred’s responsibility would always display hard work and the highest level of sportsmanship and class. Just in that alone he was a successful coach and an excellent example of what a coach should be for young men.” He adds, “All success of the baseball program was due to his hard work and enthusiasm. In all that, Fred is one of the most humble men I have ever known. His joy at working at his job was always present, and his happiness was contagious.”
Of his coaching style, Mr. Berg says, “I never wanted to overdo it. I didn’t want to be the kind of coach who yelled and kicked kids off the squad or took them out of the game. I coached like I wanted to be treated in my time as a student. I wanted to have coaches who taught me.”
Mr. Berg also coached football and basketball at the JV level, assisting Sleepy Thompson on the fields and courts. When he wasn’t coaching, he was filming football. Many of the black-and-white reels used in the SSSAS Hall of Fame ceremonies are thanks to Fred Berg in the tower. When he wasn’t filming, he was announcing. When he wasn’t announcing, he was running summer camps. He was participating everywhere. That’s, of course, what you did at a small school, but even as the school grew his enthusiasm only seemed to grow with it. “I was never far from the ball,” he says.
All four of Mr. Berg’s sons attended St. Stephen’s (Bill ’72, Hank ’74, David ’80 and Andy ’85), but of course he had many more boys at the school who were drawn to his hopeful and positive attitude. As Tom Mustin ’78 shares, “He made all of his students feel welcome, and we left his class feeling better about ourselves.” Mr. Berg took a genuine interest in every athlete. His son Bill notes that even years after students had graduated, his father “has always been able to come up with a story about most athletes at the school because he cared about them.” As Hall of Famer Paul Zuidema ’71 perhaps says best, “As you consider the past 50-plus years of Saints sports, only a handful of men stand out as constants throughout the years… Few men have contributed as much, for so long, to Saints sports as has Fred Berg.” Señor loved what he did and did what he loved. Yes, Mr. Berg, you were there. Butthat statement is missing something. It’s for what and for whom he was there that makes him a true hall of famer. Because if you have been near the Saints sports program at any time between the 1960s and the 2000s, you know: Señor was there for everything—and for everyone.