Time together grows short for Bergie and his boys

Whether it’s been grades or girlfriends, soccer or social studies, winning or losing, Eric Bergeson has always been there for his players and students.

But this year is a little different as the South Kitsap soccer coach will eventually have to say goodbye to three key players — Francis Pyle, Jimmy Hoettel and Robbie Robinson.

Those three have been with Bergeson since since his days as a seventh-grade teacher at Marcus Whitman, and they’ve watched each other grow as players, as students, as a coach and a teacher.

“I don’t really think of him as a teacher or a coach,” Pyle said. “He’s really a good friend to me. I don’t know where I’d be right now if he wasn’t there to help me. He really helped me out a lot.”

And as the Wolves, 9-6-2, prepare for Saturday’s winner-to-state, loser-out match with Jefferson at 2 p.m. in Sumner, this year has just a bit more sentimental value for them all.

“Probably the original connection, the relationship was forged by soccer,” Bergeson said. “When first started teaching at (Marcus Whitman Junior High) before I was coaching, one of my favorite things to do was to stay after and play basketball and soccer, just to give the kids something to do after school. And these guys were the first ones that would be out there.

“We were constantly around each other and I learned to appreciate just what honest and good-hearted young men they were,” Bergeson said. “I’m like anyone else; you want to be surrounded by people that you care about and who care about you. You’ve got their back and vice versa. And these guys have been by my side through thick and thin, and I’ve been by theirs for years.”

Pyle, a senior forward, has probably had the closest relationship with Bergie — as he’s called by his players. Pyle’s older brother Greg introduced the two and Pyle’s been along for the ride ever since as a player and manager of the Wolves’ girls team.

Robinson, a senior defender, and Hoettel, a senior sweeper, had quite a different introduction in Bergie’s seventh-grade block class.

“He’d break yard sticks over our heads as a joke,” Hoettel said. “It was great stuff. It kept us in line.”

From there, the group has forged a consistent path to the state playoffs each year on the field and better grades off of it.

“It hasn’t always been easy for these guys, especially playing for a person that pushes people as much as I do, and not always in the most kind-hearted, cuddling way” Bergeson said. “They’ve definitely had to improve in many ways, and we’ve all just grown together and improved this program through hard work.”

All three have had their problems, and Bergeson has always been around to help.

“My mom always threatens me about my grades, like I’m going to get grounded or something,” Hoettel said. “And I always end up arguing with her. I tell her it’s not her that I’m worried about, it’s Bergie. She can do anything she wants, I’m more afraid of what Bergie will make me do.”

And as their time together on the field and in the classroom draws to a close, all four will take plenty away from the years.

“I think they take from our early times in class and on the soccer field the idea of approaching everything we do full-on, of doing the best that we can and not leaving anything that we don’t have to to chance and just being industrious, hard-working, fun-loving people,” Bergeson said. “Combine that with the smiles they always have on their faces.

“The idea that they are seniors is a little heart-wrenching to me,” Bergeson said. “I was so grateful to have this extra week with them. With these seniors, I’m just so disinterested in letting them go from the program yet. Because of everything they’ve given and just because of all the laughs. These guys are as important to me as my own nephews. I’m protective of them. I get on them when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do and I hope that we’re good friends for the rest of our lives.”

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