Updated: Feb 14, 2020
Jim Berkman is the head coach for the Salisbury University men’s lacrosse team. He enters his 32nd year at the helm for the maroon and gold.
Berkman is the all-time winningest coach in NCAA men’s lacrosse history with 555 career victories as a head coach. He was also inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2013.
The Salisbury men’s lacrosse team looks to continue its journey for the 13th national championship of Berkman’s tenure in 2020.
The Flyer had the chance to sit down with Berkman and discuss Division III lacrosse, local eateries, the lacrosse team's pregame ritual and more.
Q: What have been some key factors in continuing your success over the decades?
When I first got here, nobody was really recruiting in 1989. Not a lot of junior college players were getting recruited, especially to the Division III level. We were able to jump on that bandwagon and get several kids really early in my tenure that complemented great freshman classes that really helped us upgrade our program’s talent level.
Then I think the next big thing was our first championship in ’91. That’s the pinnacle in our sport. Once you’ve been there you’re dying to go back. That kind of mindset has existed here really since 1991, because every kid here in the last 23 years has won a national championship. Several classes at any given time have been there and are driving themselves harder and their teammates harder because they know they only have a four-year window to get back.
Another thing, not only for myself, is that continuity in Division III athletics is one of the keys to success if it’s good continuity. You have coaches who not only came through the system and bleed maroon and gold, but know the system as well as I do, and that really leads to success too. I would say over the last seven or eight years, the captain thing has turned into a competition, not to be captain, but to outdo the previous captains. This year, after 32 years of virtually doing the same four strength tests, our kids passed at the highest level in the history of the program. That’s a tribute to the captains and the preparation that’s going on behind the scenes.
Q: What are some advantages to having the facilities and campus of Salisbury?
As we move forward into the next decade, the arms race has trickled down from Division I all the way to Division III, so having a facility that opens people’s eyes as far as the stadium goes and a locker room that rivals anything is a really big step that allows us to continue to compete. Having a great academic institution, which we weren’t known for 15 years ago but now are, not only makes it a lot more attractive to a lot more student-athletes, but it also really helps our retention rate because our students are much better students. Sometimes, especially in the recruiting wars in the day and age of social media, it’s almost like show-and-tell, and we can show and tell now with the new library, the new business school and all the other new things on campus.
Q: Where do you like to eat around Salisbury?
I’m not a big eater. One of my things is I’m a salad guy. We were on the road for our first game on Sunday, we were eating at Golden Corral and everybody’s chowing down, and what’s Coach Berkman have? He has two salads. I’m not a dessert guy, I like to go to Adam’s [Taphouse Grille], who’s the go-to for the Sea Gulls and have their chopped salad, I like to go to Specific Gravity. That’s my bike club place where our bikers hang out when we ride bikes on the weekends, and again, my go-to there is their chopped salad.
Q: What are your favorite sports teams?
I can remember I was sitting on the couch with my dad when I was six or seven years old in the mid-60’s, and it was always the Packers and the Cowboys and Bart Starr. I can remember all the way back when Tom Brown, who’s a local legend, was playing d-back, and that’s when I became a Packers fan. It wasn’t a Brett Favre thing or anything else, it was a Bart Starr thing, not that I’m a huge fan, but I’m always looking to see what the Packers do on Mondays and was rooting for them in the playoffs.
When I grew up in upstate New York, I played a lot of hockey. It was kind of one of my things, and back then, I was a Bobby Orr fan, and I still kind of like the Bruins. I’m not a Caps fan or a Ravens fan.
I grew up a Knick fan, but it’s been really tough to be a Knick fan for a long time now. With all the recent things, I guess I’m a Warrior fan now, with how free-spirited those guys played, and they play without a conscience. We try to teach our guys. One of the things we always talk about is playing without a conscience because it opens their mind and doesn’t get people worried about making mistakes.
Q: What's with the pregame chant?
Obviously, we have the pregame ritual that started way back in the 90’s with the chant. It’s a pretty cool thing that was started by Andrew Harris, who actually was a guy who had been in the Marines before he came here. On the other side of our practice field, there’s these huge trees that were planted in 1989, and they were little [saplings] that were about two foot high. They created this natural barrier about ten feet from where they were planted in the fence, and it made it a great track. We used to run between the [saplings] and the fence all the way down, and we used to be able to run around the softball field and follow it back up the side. It was a pretty big loop, close to doing about a half mile. We used to do Indian running, when the guy in the back sprints to the front, everyone is jogging a slow jog, the guy gets to the front and yells ‘Go’ and the next guy takes off. Well, one day, unbeknownst to me, they start running, and all of a sudden, Andrew starts doing one of his military things and gets the guys repeating after him. That evolved into what’s now the chant.
By NICK LEWIS
Featured photo: Sports Information image.