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Berardinelli was ‘bear’ of a coach

“B … Bear … Barbell … Beerbelly … Berardinelli!”

This was the chant echoed by many Bishop Guilfoyle football players during the 1970s to honor our iconic line coach/defensive coordinator, Lou Berardinelli, and he loved it.

The chant began during my junior year and was arguably developed by our two outstanding senior linebackers, Dave Tate and Joe Muhlbauer.

Bernardinelli was in charge of our top-ranked defense (1972 Blair County), and we would serenade him after each win with this chant — many times led by our head coach, Tom Irwin.

Bernardinelli was part of Irwin’s BG staff in the 1970s along with coaches such as Dave Smith, Ron Fiochetta and Tony Lepore — all BG icons in their own right.

But Coach Lou was the one we feared the most. We cringed when he “loudly corrected” our mistakes and beamed when he lauded our efforts. We lived for that. (He also doubled as our unofficial trainer, and I have several disfigured fingers as a daily reminder of his unique method for fixing dislocatons.)

I had the privilege of both playing for him and having him on my staff as one of my assistants.

Not only was he an excellent coach, but his wisdom and calming influence were so important in helping me develop as a young head coach. He had a way of correcting you, giving advice and then making you feel really good about yourself.

And could he ever tell a story. We were never sure how true they were, but they always made a point and were always entertaining. Even after he retired, I would love to visit and get his perspective on things. He was never at a loss to tell you how he felt about something — a definite old-school perspective.

That’s why we loved him.

I was so fortunate to have visited him before Christmas when he was very sick. He didn’t want to talk about his illness. All he was concerned with was my new coaching venture. He wanted to know what the problems were and how could he help.

We talked coaching, which he loved, for over two hours, and when I left, he had me believing in myself again.

I’m sure somewhere up in heaven, he’s already holding court, telling stories and making others feel really good about themselves.

God bless, Lou Berardinelli. I hope he realized how important he was to all of his former players and coaches.

John Franco, Altoona

(The writer graduated from Bishop Guilfoyle in 1974 and has been coaching football in Blair County for more than 40 years. He’s currently in his second stint as Tyrone Area High School’s head coach.)

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