BY CHARLES MILLER
Lacrosse in Maryland is a big deal, but in Salisbury, lacrosse has become a symbol for Salisbury athletics mainly due to one man: Jim Berkman.
The head coach of the men’s lacrosse team brings a competitive edge to Division III athletics because of his willingness to win along with a multitude of accomplishments achieved throughout a long career.
The 28-year coach is one of the most successful and well-known to ever set foot in Salisbury.
In his time with the Gulls, Berkman has posted 10 National Championships wins, 19 CAC Championship wins and 27 straight NCAA tournament appearances. He was also inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2013.
“To me success is improvement…getting better,” Berkman said. “The last couple of years we were a lot better at the end than we were in the beginning.”
The discussion of success and other concepts that Berkman elaborates on almost always circles back around to the improvement of the team; a key factor to the success Salisbury has seen the past three decades.
Justin Axel, the assistant coach who many believe will replace Berkman whenever he should decide to retire, has taken the eight years he’s been with the program to study Berkman’s coaching style and discover what needs to be done to consistently have success.
“I think it’s his work ethic, he has an unbelievable drive and attention to detail and puts the program first.” Axel said. “He has a mantra that is leave no stone unturned, and I think anyone who has been through this program knows that saying.”
When it comes to Berkman’s mindset and concentration, the hall of fame coach looks back to his days as a graduate assistant at Salisbury where he realized preparation and confidence can take a team as far as they’re willing to go.
“When I was here in grad school in 1983-84, I learned to work real hard to leave no stones unturned,” Berkman said. “I have always felt we have never gone into a game we weren’t thoroughly prepared for.”
Berkman has coached many players who have gone on to the pros and ended up in the SU Hall of Fame. Sophomore Garrett Reynolds models his dedication and work ethic off of what he’s sees from his coach every day in practice.
“Coach Berkman has been around for a long time, he has never missed a practice and his dedication to the sport, program and school speaks for itself,” Reynolds said.
Berkman preaches two main concepts to his players including “the uncommon effort at common things” approach as well as the “edge workout” which he believes are vital pieces to his team’s success.
“Special guys give the uncommon effort,” Berkman said.
The edge workout consists of going above and beyond what is normally expected. Going farther than the normal three to five sets of a workout Berkman requires his team to complete.
“He demands your absolute best each and every day and he really helps people develop into complete players and coaches,” Axel said.
Players, coaches and fans have several memories involving Berkman, but Axel remembers 2007 as a time that defined who Berkman was.
“We just had our 69 game winning streak snapped in the 2006 Championship game,” Axel said. “It was special because of how that group responded, the will to win from the team was unbelievable and to be apart of that group was special.”
The conclusion on 2007 season ended in a National Championship for the Sea Gulls and was a very special moment for the team as well as their coach.
“I was standing in the middle of the field with my son who was the MVP of the game, National Player of the year and Midfielder of the year,” Berkman said. “It was a pretty special day.”
In Berkman’s eyes, the victory was just as important as Salisbury’s first championship win over the Hobart Statesmen in 1994, because it proved his team can overcome adversity and accomplish any goal they have.
Perhaps Berkman’s biggest enjoyment of coaching is seeing the growth of his players from their freshman year to their final game in maroon and gold.
“Seeing that development overtime and trying to structure an environment that fosters and encourages that development,” Berkman said. “I think that is the biggest complement as a coach when people improve under your tutelage.”
Berkman has won a lot of awards in his 28 seasons, but possibly the most important thing he has won is the respect of those young athletes that look to him for advice and lessons about being a better person and getting to the next level.
“Most of all, I think it is the constant respect that is given from his coaches and players,” Reynolds said.