An outstanding student-athlete growing up in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, Bernie excelled in a number of sports. He was a first-team city high school all-star in football in 1946 and won the 100-yard dash in the city-wide track meet in 1947. As well, he loved basketball.
Upon graduation, Bernie received a scholarship to attend Syracuse University to play football. He set numerous records as a quarterback, being named an All-American in the process. When he graduated from Syracuse, he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns, but not to play quarterback, the position he loved. African-Americans were not considered ‘right’ for this position back then. After a short stay with them, he decided to pursue his dream of playing quarterback and that decision brought him to Hamilton in 1951.
In the Canadian Football League, he again endured his share of taunts and racial epithets but he was never discouraged. He excelled in Hamilton and had an illustrious career. Bernie was the first black quarterback in the C.F.L. but he proved, both on and off the field, to be an equal and an exciting new force in professional football. His courage helped pave the way for other black athletes to follow in his footsteps here in Canada.
He wasn’t finished with football when he retired from the C.F.L. in 1959. He quickly began an outstanding coaching career that lasted 31 years. He coached the Oakville Black Knights, the East York Argonauts, the Burlington Braves Junior Football Team, the Sheridan College Bruins, and finally the McMaster University Marauders. He had success wherever he went, not just because his teams won, but also because of the profound influence, he had on the hundreds of young men who were led by him. Without exception, his former players admire and respect him while expressing true affection for him.
Bernie is consistently recognized as a wonderful ambassador for the game of football, but more importantly as a true gentleman and model of integrity and honesty. He never compromised his principles to win a game. This very special person is an inspiration to the sporting community of not just Burlington but to Canada as a whole.
Bernie passed away in 2017.