Bernie Larson set numerous goals for himself during a six-week hospital stay.
While the former Pennfield athletic director experienced a few setbacks following back surgery and an infection, he continued to set new goals for himself — chief among them was his desire to walk out of the hospital by May 1.
On Wednesday, Larson was back home.
“Goal setting in my life has been a tremendous asset,” Larson said. “But prayer has been more of an asset.”
Larson was to serve as the Pennfield boys’ golf head coach for his 11th and final season this spring. But his hospitalization left the Panthers in need of someone to guide the program in his absence.
So in stepped Fred Beronja, a seven-year assistant coach for the Panthers, who agreed to take over the reigns on an interim basis.
“Bernie has offered so much to Pennfield schools and high school sports in general,” Beronja said. “I just wanted to come out here and help these kids… I wasn’t about to let this program not have a season this year. I couldn’t just walk away.”
DEDICATION TO SPORTS
Larson arrived at Pennfield in 1965, becoming the school’s athletic director five years later. He held that role for 27 years.
In addition to his contributions to Panthers’ athletics, Larson was a Michigan High School Athletic Association basketball and baseball official for 10 years, he served as the team chaplain for the minor league and summer collegiate teams at C.O. Brown Stadium, and he was the 1999 winner of the MHSAA Forsythe Award — the highest honor bestowed by the organization.
So in his role as the Pennfield golf coach, Larson brought with him decades of organizational and administrative skills. Those were not things Beronja had originally signed up to deal with.
“Those are some big shoes to fill,” said Beronja. “It’s different (being head coach). It’s a lot more involved. Before I was just working with kids on their golf game. I didn’t have to deal with paperwork, the administration, the transportation or setting up a golf tournament or an outing — that was something Bernie always did. Now I’m glad I did it. Of course it’s going to be rewarding.”
A SPECIAL VISIT
As much as losing Larson for the season was felt by the Pennfield coaching staff, it had an equal effect on the players.
The Panthers have a senior-dominated roster with five on the team, meaning many had worked with Larson throughout their prep golf careers.
“On the course, he’s a great guy to be around,” Pennfield senior Trent Rizor said of Larson. “Always had something good to say, always uplifting. He’s probably the best putting teacher I’ve ever dealt with. I had a hard time putting, and then I came along with him and I was hitting cups.”
Pennfield’s players will have Larson on their minds when they compete in Tuesday’s All-City Tournament at Binder Park. They certainly had him in their thoughts during the season-opening Interstate Eight Jamboree on April 15, writing the longtime coach’s name on their arms.
A few days later, six members of the team, Berojna and assistant coach Chuck Griffin paid Larson a visit in the hospital.
“He lit up,” said Rizor. “Our coaches went in first and we kind of surprised him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile that big. He was really happy to see us and we were really grateful to see him in better shape than he was, making a recovery.”
Larson, who has been aided in his recovery by his wife Joan, said the outpouring of well-wishes has been “humbling.”
“The golfers — that was very meaningful for me and my wife for them to come up and spend some time,” he said. “I also had other visitors that were close to us… It’s really refreshing that people care about how you are feeling… I just appreciate it, all the prayers. I extend to everybody else the biggest thank you.”
ALL-CITY GOLF TOURNAMENT
• When: May 15, 3 p.m.
• Where: Binder Park Golf Course
• Who: Lakeview, Harper Creek, Pennfield, St. Philip