This past holiday break, I visited my hometown of Grand Forks, North Dakota and got a chance to sit down with an incredible coach and human being, Mike Berg, who spent 38 years coaching football and teaching young men and women not just X’s and O’s on the field but even more importantly how to be better people.
Most people after nearly four decades in coaching and teaching would probably take some time off to travel or partake in individual hobbies; however, Coach Berg is busy continuing his legacy spreading and implementing the “Coaching Boys into Men” program into North Dakota high school athletic programs.
The overall goal of the program is to inspire men to teach boys the importance of respecting women and that violence never equals strength. In my opinion, there is no man more qualified to lead this charge in North Dakota than Mike Berg. It is testament to his character that he would spend his retirement helping and serving his community.
I was lucky, along with many other young men, who experienced playing football under Coach Berg at Grand Forks Central. Most people never get the opportunity to play under a legendary coach like Mike Berg, winner of the NFL High School Coach of the Year Award in 2007.
I have nothing but fond memories of playing four years of high school football at Grand Forks Central, a place where I learned discipline, deliberate practice, teamwork, and how to overcome adversity.
During my era, we didn’t field the best team or have the most talent, but Coach Berg’s high expectations for behavior and athletic performance were consistent throughout my time in the program.
Berg’s football program at Grand Forks Central wasn’t built in a day. The well-oiled machine was a vision built over decades.
Having players and coaches partake in daily, weekly, and annual rituals was the Coach Berg way.
Every part of the program was meticulously planned. Whether it was Berg’s impeccably organized and well-run practices, or his locker room expectations of something as mundane as organizing our equipment a certain way. As players, we knew what to expect on day one and throughout our time in the program.
Surprisingly, it’s not the wins and losses I most remember, it’s the little traditions that every Grand Forks Central Football player who played under Coach Berg experienced.
To kick-off the season, and on the last day of pre-season Two-A-Days, we would run “Burma Road,” a test of endurance and will.
We touched the “Yes We Can” sign before every practice and game, attended weekly“Quick parties” where we watched film on Thursday’s and drank Nestle Quick for speed, and ate animal crackers, to be animal-like, in preparation for the following night’s game.
Friday night-lights were even more special. The inspirational huddles and speeches that Coach Berg gave before each game, the cold fall nights on the plains, and the school song we belted out after every victory on the bus ride home, are all memories that I will never forget.
What I most admire about Coach Berg is how he treated everyone with the same dignity and respect. Whether you were the ball boy, the scout team all star, or the player headed to a Big Ten School, he truly believed that no one was better than anyone else and that we were all a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Grand Forks Central Football was not just about football; it was about coaching boys into young men.
Thanks Coach Berg