In his fourth season as head football coach at St. Paul's, Paul Bernstorf has the No. 9 Crusaders headed into Saturday's MIAA B Conference championship against John Carroll at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium with a 10-0 record.
The Crusaders are aiming for their first undefeated season since 1996 -- the last time they won the B Conference outright. In 2002 and 2003, they shared the title.
Football coach is just one role Bernstorf has filled in his 18 years at St. Paul's. The Crusaders' athletic director, he also coached the baseball team for 14 years and was a middle school math teacher.
A native of Haverford, Pa., Bernstorf, 54, played football and baseball in high school and was a pitcher in college at Richmond. He previously coached at The Haverford School and at Columbus Academy, where his football team won the Ohio state championship in 1987. He was an assistant football coach with the Crusaders while he coached the baseball team.
As this week's Coachspeak guest, Bernstorf answers five questions about the Crusaders' success, their undefeated record and his coaching philosophy.
What has made this season so successful?
I think the kids have really learned to care about each other. They've learned to be unselfish. They put the team's goals ahead of everyone else's. It's just the camaraderie and atmosphere around the team. It's been a lot of fun. It's amazing to watch kids really care about each other. I think, oftentimes in this day and age, kids can be really selfish and we have a group of kids who absolutely look out for the best interest of the team. It's really neat to see that. We talk a lot about how people can win with all different offenses and all different defenses, but I think the successful teams are the ones that truly care about each other the most. That's what defines success.
How does being undefeated at this point affect a team -- does it add more motivation or more pressure?
I don't remember anyone ever talking about it. All we seem to do is focus on what we have to do each day and what we have to do for that week. Once the game's over, we're always moving on to the next week and that's kind of the nature of football. I don't care what our record is. I don't think anybody really mentions it, because we have a task that we have to take on and we have to prepare for and let's get ready for that challenge.
When you first wanted to coach, did you want to coach football or baseball?
I wanted to coach both. I enjoy working with kids. I would hope that I still have something to contribute and teach them about life. It's been a lot of fun. I've been doing this since 1979, so it's been almost 33 years and it's still fun to do. Each group is different and I just enjoy working with kids and trying to help teach them some things about life.
What is most rewarding about coaching high school sports?
I think the impact that you can have on young people. Watching them mature. Watching them grow. Watching them learn to put other people first. Trying to help them figure out who they are. Trying to help them understand that not everybody can be a star and everybody has a role to accept. Everybody has a role in life and we have to make sure we accept those roles and do the best we can in those roles. I think it's an important lesson for kids to learn. Help them build self confidence. Help them feel good about themselves. Those are all the life lessons I think we can teach through athletics. You can also talk about respect for other people, how they learn to communicate. Life lessons are really there and I think they're more easily learned through athletics than they may be in a classroom or some other places.
How has your coaching philosophy developed over the years?
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I was very fortunate to have a mentor I've known for a long time and that was Jack McMullen, who used to be at McDonogh. He was my sixth grade Sunday School teacher many, many years ago and he helped me establish the philosophy I just articulated about teaching life lessons and values. I learned that very early on and I still believe that's what we should be doing. This is still about education. We're not in college where it's professional or we have to win. This is about education: What lessons are we teaching each day?