Sunday Sports: North country natives help build Salisbury Lacrosse powerhouse

Updated: Jun. 28, 2020 at 8:53 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Watertown native Jim Berkman has built a powerhouse at Salisbury, winning 12 national titles at the Division 3 level and making 31 straight NCAA tournament appearances in his 32 years as coach.

But when Berkman arrived in 1988, he inherited a project.

”You know in 1988 I got the job here and the program was in a little bit of some issues. They had fired the coach and when I arrived we only had about 18 players, 20 at max. But my nephew Ricky Berkman, who’s the head coach at Potsdam, he jumped on board and he came to Salisbury with a few other. He was at Canton at the time. You know Ricky was a- His senior year, I think he scored a hundred something points and you know was First Team All-American,” said Berkman.

And so began the the influx of north country talent that would turn the Salisbury program around.

He was followed by General Brown product Dan Mergott, who was named National Midfielder of the Year and an All-American in 1995.

”Great athlete, unbelievable athlete, you know? And in ’94, [...] Danny Mergott was the National Midfielder of the Year and he was a kid that could run all day and never came off the field and he was definitely instrumental,” said Berkman.

And then came Berkman’s biggest north country recruit: Carthage lacrosse star Jason Coffman, who was a 4 time All-American, two time Player of the Year and two time National Champion.

Coffman would amass 451 points in his career, which is still the NCAA record for points in a career at any level.

”You know [Coffman] was a special player, very unique body frame, natural strength, you know? Played with this huge bag and whip that he knew how to control, had all the fakes in the world before people even thought about hitching and box faking. You know, he was doing that stuff. Could throw the ball around his back right into your stick. I mean, he was just an unbelievable, truly unbelievable player,” said Berkman.

”I was so fortunate to be in the situation I was. I played with such great players at Salisbury, everybody around me was a Division 1 lacrosse player that for one reason or another slipped through the cracks or ended up at Salisbury. They were all just super talented, and I was so fortunate to be able to go play in that situation and Coach Berkman let me take the reigns right as a freshman. You know, he let me be me, he let me experiment, he let me go out and try different things on the field. You know, he was hard on me but he was fair and he’d always tell me go ahead and try it but if it doesn’t work don’t do it again,” said Coffman.

Then came former Canton lacrosse star Sam Bradman, who was a 3 time All-American, 2 time National Champion and the Most Outstanding Player of the 2011 National Championship Game.

”He just was unbelievable. Especially his last 2 years. You know, when he learned, Sammy had to learn that it was okay to fail, and that you know, he was so good you know, you’re gonna have to take risks, but you know you’re gonna fail a few times you know and it’s okay to make some mistakes,” said Berkman.

4 north country lacrosse players that helped a north country native become the winningest coach in mens college lacrosse history and build a dynasty at the Division 3 level.

And some big news from Can-Am Speedway.

The track announced this afternoon that they will indeed hold Wednesday nights PABST shootout with fans in the grandstand for the first time this year.

The state had placed a cease and desist order on race tracks in the state having fans in the stands, but Can-Am tells 7 News that on Friday, S.S. District Judge Gary l. Sharpe ruled “The limits placed on outdoor gatherings were potentially unconstitutional and issued an immediate injunction forbidding the State of New York from enforcing any limitation on outdoor gatherings provided participants follow social distancing requirements.”

This is a changing situation but as of right now, Can-Am will drop the green flag on Friday night with spectators in attendance.

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