Always one to be active outdoors, Jim Bersche spent five decades in teaching and coaching — which included 31 years at Norwalk High School helping guide numerous athletes to impressive feats in cross country and track.
Jim was born in Fairmont, W. Va. to G. Joseph and Jessie Bersche. As a preacher, G.J. was transferred to Warren, Ohio, then Akron — and finally to Pontiac, Mich. where Jim graduated in 1950.
Bersche is one of five people who will be inducted Saturday during a ceremony at the high school. The other four are Peggy Corrigan (distinguished citizen),Robert Factor (Class of 1962, academic), Tina (Linder) Davidson (class of 1987, volleyball) and T.J. (Horner) Thomas (class of 1988, volleyball).
Attending Pontiac High School during his junior and senior years, he participated in football and track — holding his school record in the 400- and 800-meter dash for several years.
After one year of college in Nyack, N.Y, Jim transferred to Wheaton College, Illinois where he ran track and cross country on a scholarship. Gil Dodds, at one time the world record holder for the indoor mile, was his coach. The opportunity to compete in many states earned him accolades and honed his understanding of good running practices, which he used during his high school teaching and coaching years.
Jim taught at junior high in Pontiac upon graduation from college in 1955. In addition to teaching, he also coached football and track. After 10 years, Jim went to work as the financial officer for a construction company and then on to director of purchasing for a plumbing manufacturer in downtown Detroit.
But in 1970, he was called back to teaching at the urging of his first wife, Mary. He interviewed and was hired to teach and coach at Norwalk High School teaching history, government, psychology and sociology in addition to coaching track and cross country.
Bersche’s impact on the cross country program paid immediate dividends. The Truckers won back-to-back league titles in 1973 and 1974 — with the fall of 1973 producing perhaps the greatest season in the history of the program.
Anchored by two NHS HOF runners Wendell Rakosky and Bob Chappelear among others, Bersche’s Trucker team went unbeaten in dual meets, won the prestigious Tiffin Carnival and the Northern Ohio League championship.
Once the Class AA state tournament trail began, Norwalk took second at the Clyde sectional and third at the Upper Sandusky district to qualify for the state championship races in Columbus. The Truckers went on to place an impressive sixth at the state championships — still the benchmark for the program today.
Bersche took a brief period off from coaching to complete his doctorate at Bowling Green State University — and continued to coach throughout his 31 years at Norwalk through his time of retirement in 2001. Dozens of athletes he coached moving on to compete at the collegiate level.
All of Bersche’s distance runners should remember him yelling instruction and encouragement from the back-side fence with a pocket full of Twizzlers. Bersche was also famous for not giving interviews with the media — only having them directly talking to his runners about their progress.
Always proud of the accomplishments of his athletes, giving awards at the end of the season was an emotional event.
Now retired after his more than 50 years of teaching and coaching, Jim and his wife, Linda, live in Norwalk. He has three brothers.
The induction ceremony will be held Saturday at the high school. The event includes a catered dinner and banquet beginning at 5 p.m., and an induction ceremony before the start of the Norwalk boys’ basketball game against Port Clinton. Reservations are required. Tickets for the banquet, which cost $15 apiece, are available through today. Tickets will not be sold at the door.