POPSON RECALLED FONDLY
LED WEST SIDE
FOR QUARTER CENTURY
By JERRY KELLAR and STEVE SEMBRAT; Times Leader Sports
Tuesday, May 12, 1998 Page: 1B
WILKES-BARRE- Bishop O'Reilly's first football coach and the father of two
of the school's most famous athletes died on Sunday after a lengthy illness.
Bernie Popson Sr., 67, of Ashley, passed away at Mercy Hospital. He coached
the football program at the Kingston school from 1955 until 1980, was the
school's athletic director for 25 years and served as the dean of students. He
retired in 1990.
Popson leaves behind a wife, daughter and three sons. His passing created
shock waves throughout the community- and beyond.
"Wow!" a stunned Joe Pisarcik, perhaps Popson's most famous player, said
from his home in Cherry Hill, N.J. "He did so much for me. He was a good man."
Popson, said longtime friend and coaching rival Mickey Gorham, "... brought
out the best in everybody. He was old school in toughness, a tough old cadet.
I'm very saddened."
"He was a helluva man," said Wilkes-Barre resident Marty Carr, who grew up
with Popson and went to college with him at St. Bonaventure University.
"Bernie was a great teacher, great athlete and great coach."
Among those surviving Popson are his wife of 45 years, Mary Jo, of Ashley;
and a daughter, Cathy, also of Ashley.
Popson's youngest son, David, was one of the best basketball players to
come out of the area. David went to the University of North Carolina on a
basketball scholarship and later played several years in the NBA. He currently
resides in Raleigh, N.C.
Popson's eldest son, Bernie Jr., was a star running back while playing for
his father. Bernie Jr., of Dallas, is an avid runner and is still active in
the area sports scene.
Popson's son James (Jay), who lives in Mountaintop, also played football
for his father at O'Reilly.
Bernie Popson Sr. was a familiar figure at a school that went through
several name changes during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The school was known
as West Side Central Catholic, Kingston Central Catholic, Central Catholic and
finally Bishop O'Reilly.
"Bernie was a real black-and-white kind of guy. In his eyes, there was a
right way to do things and a wrong way to do things," said Dave Kaschak, who
played for Popson from 1964-66 and was a coaching assistant under him from
Kaschak remembered Popson as someone who was "tough as nails," but Kaschak
choked up with emotion as he spoke of his mentor.
"If he saw somebody with potential, he would work them hard to get it out
of them," Kaschak said. "If you were one of the wise guys, in his eyes, he
didn't have time for you."
"There was nothing fancy about Bernie," said GAR athletic director and
former coach John Rowlands, whose Grenadier teams squared off against the
Queensmen many times during the Popson era.
"He was one of the older breed ... just a hard-nosed guy," Rowlands
explained. "Bernie never really got the credit he deserved for some of the
great teams he had because (the Queensmen) weren't in the (Wyoming Valley)
conference. But he had some great football teams."
Popson the coach loved cliches, those adages that no matter how redundant
ring true. One of his favorites was "You can't make chicken salad out of
Kaschak once heard those words applied to him. Kaschak had scored five
touchdowns in a freshman game and recalled that he was getting a bit of an
attitude. It was Popson who set him straight.
"He would always say to me, `How's school going?' because he knew I wasn't
the greatest student," Kaschak said. "He was like a guardian to me. He made
sure I did what I had to do."
Pisarcik echoed those sentiments.
"He was very tough, but you always knew he was with you," he said.
An all-star quarterback/linebacker at Central Catholic in the late 1960s,
Pisarcik received a scholarship to New Mexico State University, then played 12
years of professional football, nine in the NFL.
Pisarcik said Popson was the last of a breed of coaches.
"He was a no-nonsense-type guy, but a good motivator ... a guy you wanted
to play for."
Popson was inducted into the St. Bonaventure Hall of Fame in 1982. A
graduate of Ashley High School in 1948, he went to St. Bonaventure and was
captain of the 1952 football team.
"He was the best athlete ever to come out of Ashley," said Gorham, who knew
Popson for more than 40 years. "That's what they've always said about Bernie."
In 1996, Popson was honored by the "Popson Grant," an annual scholarship
program for disadvantaged student-athletes nationwide. It was established by
George Bednar, one of Popson's former players.
"I've been very fortunate in my life," Bednar said. "Everything has gone
pretty well for me, and Bernie was certainly one of the contributing factors.
That's why I wanted to honor him. His name will now be remembered forever with
Popson's viewing will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the
George A. Strish Funeral Home, 105 N. Main St., Ashley. In lieu of flowers,
contributions can be made to the Bishop O'Reilly High School Bernard J. Popson
Scholarship Fund, 316 N. Maple Ave., Kingston, Pa., 18704.
Bernie Popson Sr.
Popson's obituary -