ATLANTIC CITY – The Stockton University rowing program garnered the support of the region’s rowing community at a fundraiser held Friday, March 8 at the Fannie Lou Hamer Event Center at the Atlantic City campus.
The “Rowing and Growing: Honoring the Past, Building the Future” event brought together rowing supporters and honored legendary rowing icon Stan Bergman, who has developed successful athletes and led the University of Pennsylvania, Holy Spirit High School and Viking Rowing Clubs for decades. Bergman has not only had an illustrious coaching career spanning more than 50 years, he is also the chief of the Ventnor City Beach Patrol.
“I am humbled and grateful for this recognition,” Bergman said. “But the real recognition goes to the athletes who try to get to the top.”
On hand to present a $40,000 sponsorship from the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey was Jonathan R. Pearson, executive director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the state’s largest health insurer.
The foundation, which works to improve the health of New Jersey residents by promoting health prevention and education programs, will allow the university to purchase a new boat that will be named for Bergman.
“This is more than a donation. This will allow Horizon to be part of the community in a deeper way,” Pearson said.
University President Harvey Kesselman said Bergman possess all the qualities needed to be the university’s first rowing honoree, including “desire, dedication, determination, consistency and a will to live.”
Bergman thanked his supporters over the years, including his wife and family, but his greatest supporter was Doc John Holland, who was instrumental in bringing rowing to the area, he said.
Holland started the Viking Rowing Club 60 years ago and encouraged Holy Spirit High School, Atlantic City High School and St. Augustine Preparatory School to start their rowing programs, Bergman said.
“He had all the character traits a leader should have, including compassion, integrity and passion,” Bergman said.
Bergman said all the area coaches present in the room were part of Doc Holland’s “Tree of Mentorship.”
“He was the trunk and we are the branches,” he said. “He is the main reason we have rowing in the area and why Stockton has made a strong commitment to rowing under one of the best coaches in the U.S.,” he said, referring to Ospreys Head Coach John Bancheri.
Bancheri, a graduate of Atlantic City High School, has been inducted into the Golden Eagles Sports Hall of Fame 2006 and was Dad Vail Men’s Coach of the Year in 2002. He has coached both men’s and women’s teams for more than 35 years, including at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, where he led the Lakers to six consecutive championships and developed rowers to represent Team USA in the 2012 Olympics in London. He also coached at Marietta College in Ohio, leading the men’s team to Dad Vail, and coached Andrew Bolton, who won gold at the World Championships in 2008. Bancheri also coached at Wichita State University in Kansas and University of Charleston in West Virginia, his alma mater.
Before the end of the night, Stockton’s rowing program learned it would have two additional boats with the donation of two varsity eight shells.
Karen Alton, the granddaughter of Stockton University founder Elizabeth Alton, flew in from California to bestow the contribution, which will kick-start the Stockton program so it becomes world-class.
“My dad John Alton used to watch crew teams row in the back bay and he worked with Coach Bergman on the Ventnor City Beach Patrol,” Karen Alton said. “It is our wish is to help develop a national rowing program, building on South Jersey’s proud rowing heritage.”
Alton said she hopes to see Stockton rowing become a championship team, along with a regatta on the backbay and in support of the cultural and economic revitalization of Atlantic City.
Bancheri said the momentum for rowing at Stockton is growing, and the team has doubled its squad faster than expected.
Members of the Stockton University Men’s Club Team were on hand for the celebration, while the Women’s Team was practicing in warmer climes.
The women’s program is one of 18 intercollegiate and NCAA Division III sports at Stockton. The Men’s Club Team is a member of the Mid-Atlantic Rowing conference. They row out of the Atlantic City Boathouse.
The event also included live and silent auctions and a raffle.
The Azeez Foundation was title sponsor. Other major contributors to the rowing program at Stockton include former Sen. Bill Gormley, Calvi Electric, Marathon Engineering and Environmental Services, George Miller, Margie and Jack Plackter, Francis Previti, David Smith and Sosh Architects.