Walnut Grove coach George Bergen has left a long-lasting impression on former students, players
There is no denying the impact George Bergen has made on the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of students who have walked the hallways at Walnut Grove Secondary.
Following his team’s 59-53 victory (see page 25) over the White Rock Christian Academy Warriors in the final of the B.C. boys AAA high school basketball championships at the Langley Events Centre on Saturday night, Bergen was standing off to the side, along with his assistant coaches, while the Gators players were atop the podium, posing for pictures with the championship trophy and banner.
But Gator Nation, loud and boisterous all night long on the heels of the school’s first-ever provincial title at this level, would have none of that.
The fans began steadily chanting his name, and were joined by the players on the podium. Soon, Bergen and his staff had no choice but to take their rightful place alongside the team.
Following the game, players and students tweeted their love for the coach.
“Got that ring! Did it for berg” read part of the message from Bryce Derton (@skip341) a Grade 10 bench player who has two more seasons still to play.
And Walnut Grove graduate Taylor McBeth (@taylor_mcbeth) wrote, “Couldn’t be more proud of our Gators. 21 years of commitment, Bergen deserves this more than anyone.”
The long-time coach — who turns 61 later this year — has been coaching for more than four decades and last April was honoured by Basketball BC with a Coaching Award of Excellence.
Even then, he shrugged off the honour, insisting that when you coach as long as he has, you are bound to be recognized for something.
Bergen has been the architect of the Walnut Grove basketball program, coming to the high school when it first opened its doors in 1991.
That first season, he had to coax players to join the team, as he didn’t even have enough to field a starting five. But eventually, he did, and although they lost more than they won that first season, the foundation was built.
Over the years, the Gators have produced some solid teams, finishing fourth in 2000, and second last year.
Just how many lives Bergen has touched was clear Saturday night, as former players were on hand, beaming with pride as they watched their old coach win the title.
After all, how many other 19-year-old boys go around giving hugs to former teachers, especially in public? But that was exactly the case on Saturday as Ethan McKean, a valuable part of last year’s second-place team, embraced his coach in a tight hug.
That is a perfect illustration of how much Bergen has meant to Walnut Grove.
Bergen has also accomplished a pretty rare feat, having won a title as both a player (1970, MEI Eagles) and now as a coach. The feat has been done just three times: Bill Garner won the title in 1950 with Duke of Connaught as a player and then as a coach in 1966 with Victoria; and Stan Stewardson was a player on the 1956 Lester Pearson team and coach of the 1971 North Delta squad.
But ask Bergen which feels better, and he doesn’t hesitate to answer.
“It is a special feeling,” he said. “Winning it as a player was a great memory, a memory of a lifetime.
“This, winning it as a coach, probably even sweeter.”
Gary Ahuja is a sports reporter with for The Times.