October 21, 2013

Do As I Do

2013 Hall of Fame Inductee Jim Berkman has won more games than any other coach in NCAA men's lacrosse history and shows no signs of slowing down

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Berkman continues his intensity on the sidelines, even with 428 wins under his belt.
© Salisbury University

After deciding to leave the familiar surroundings of upstate New York to come south as a young collegiate coach, Jim Berkman did not figure he'd still be here after all of these years.

When he arrived in 1988 at the former Salisbury State College on Maryland's Eastern Shore to take over a Division III lacrosse outfit that featured about 20 players, Berkman simply was determined to create something better and build it to last.

"You never think you'll be in one spot this long," Berkman said.

A quarter-century has passed. And Berkman, looking remarkably fit at 53 while sitting in his cramped office, its paneled walls covered by pictures, plaques and mementos showing a program built and maintained extraordinarily well, has long become the icon who never left the Shore.

As the men's lacrosse coach who has won more games (428) than any other in NCAA history, Berkman is a staple on the campus – now Salisbury University – that has changed so much during his distinguished tenure.

It's a career run that began with Berkman also coaching women's basketball and teaching nearly enough courses to match the workload of a full-time faculty member. It has included a very successful, seven-year stretch through the 1990s as the women's soccer coach.

These days, Salisbury enrolls nearly 8,000 undergraduate students and boasts the $55 million Purdue School of Business. A new, $115 million library and student center soon will be under construction. Also in the plans is a major renovation to Sea Gull Stadium.

Through all of the changes, Berkman has remained a constant in the non-scholarship and increasingly competitive world of Division III lacrosse. He has churned out wins and great players and NCAA titles at a dizzying rate, all while remaining essentially the same demanding, no-nonsense guy in the eyes of the men who have played key roles in getting Berkman into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame 2013

What: The National Lacrosse Hall of Fame induction ceremony

When: Saturday, October 26, beginning at 5 p.m.

Where: Grand Lodge of Maryland, Hunt Valley

Who: Jim Berkman, Quinn Carney Burke, Michell DeJuliis, Sue Heether, Bill Miller, Tracy Stumpf, Ryan Wade, Michael Watson.

Read more about the 2013 Class

Tickets: Online sale has ended. No ticket sales at the door. Call the US Lacrosse Special Events Department at (410) 584-7070 (x 172) to purchase tickets.

Cost: $135
 - includes cocktail hour with open bar and hors d'oeuvres from beginning at five, followed by the dinner/ceremony, with coffee, dessert and open bar continuing until 11 p.m.

"[Berkman] has adapted to the game his whole career, but he's remained true to himself," said Erik Miller, the goalie on the school's first NCAA championship team in 1994 who played a combined 18 seasons professionally indoor and outdoor, and is one of the nine volunteer assistants that comprise Berkman's staff.

"Jim expects you to be in top physical shape, like he is. He expects you to listen and give 110 percent every day, which he does," Miller added. "His practices are fast and structured, no standing around. He's always teaching. He gets immediate buy-in from his players. If you follow him, he'll take you to the right place."

Berkman owns more victories (428) than any coach in NCAA men's lacrosse history. In 25 seasons at Salisbury, he is 419-43 (.907) and has led the Sea Gulls to 10 national championships and seven undefeated seasons – the most recent in 2012, when Berkman bounced back quickly from a heart attack he suffered one month into the season.

The Hall of Fame recognition screams no-brainer. As a recruiter, Berkman has unearthed his share of gems, dating to the early 90s, when he found a kid named Jason Coffman in the then-emerging lacrosse town of Carthage, N.Y.

Coffman, a dazzling finisher, went on to be a two-time player of the year in 1994-95, while leading an explosive offense that propelled the Sea Gulls to a combined 33-0 record in that span.

As a strategist, Berkman put the extra juice in the up-and-down transition style that has come to define Division III for the past 25 years.

Not that the native of Watertown, N.Y., an excellent athlete who starred at St. Lawrence University in basketball and lacrosse – a sport he didn't even try until midway through high school – is comfortable tooting his horn.

"The Hall of Fame makes me reflect on all of the guys that I've been fortunate enough to coach here, going back to the beginning," Berkman said. "So many guys have come through here that loved the game, learned something about the game and have given something back to it. I feel fortunate I could have some effect on their lives."

Berkman is maybe most proud of this number. As of last spring, he said 178 ex-Sea Gulls were coaching lacrosse in some capacity, from recreation to high school to college, in paid or volunteer spots.

They include Jayme Block, a faceoff man from the mid-1990s who spent seven years coaching at St. Mary's College, before becoming Salisbury's director of alumni services. They include Kylor Berkman, Jim's son, who led the Sea Gulls to a 22-0 record and the school's eighth title in 2008 as the national player of the year. Kylor is the head coach at Aurora (Illinois).

"We got a lot from [Berkman], and it's great to give something back," said Block, who played from 1994-97 and uses pockets of free time to work on the Salisbury practice field. "As a player, you got so much motivation from him to work for your teammates, and you knew there were always good players coming in to compete. Some of our best games were in practice. [Berkman] could do everything we could on the field, and he used to run with us all of the time. You didn't want the coach passing you. I think he was part machine."

his wife, Jennifer – the two met while attending graduate school at Salisbury in the early 80s – used to compete in triathlons together.

Aging knees have deprived Berkman of his once-treasured distance runs, but he still works out six days per week and routinely bikes 20 to 40 miles. His fitness aided him greatly in his recovery from heart surgery that corrected blockage in one artery. He also spends as much free time as possible golfing, boating or riding his Honda BTX 1800.

"If you follow him, he'll take you to the right place."

-Erik Miller, former Salisbury goalie and current assistant coach

"The perfect day is get a 30-mile bike ride in, take the motorcycle to lunch with Jen and cruise the shore for a couple of hours, then cap it off with a sunset cruise on the Wicomico River," Berkman said. "I love to pack it all in when I can."

It seems a wonder that Berkman never packed up to try winning at the Division I level. In the past decade, he was part of the coaching searches at Maryland, Loyola, Towson and Navy. He said he had turned down "nearly a handful" of suitors, choosing to remain in the security of the Salisbury world.

That decision also made sense. Jennifer worked for nearly 20 years as the director of the school's student health center, while the couple raised a son and a daughter and got to watch plenty of their lacrosse games all the way through the college years that kept the family close.

Keli won a national title with the Salisbury women's team in 2010. Jim got to coach Kylor and witnessed some of his glorious accomplishments up close. On the day the Sea Gulls won it all in '08, Kylor also was named player of the year and the Division III midfielder of the year for the second of three times.

"Jim has always been a family man. He knows the grass isn't always greener on the other side," Jennifer Berkman said. "Everything has always been a group decision [in terms of his career]. His mindset has always been focused on quality of life and balance in life.

"[Originally] we didn't think we'd be here more than five years. But it's been wild watching all of the people that have affected our lives. You're talking about thousands of players, all of the families and assistant coaches who have worked for next to nothing. The Hall of Fame brings it all full circle, and I'm so glad he is here to enjoy it. The whole ride has been an incredible experience."

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