NORTH DELTA — Gold football in hand, Mitch Berger returned to North Delta Secondary with a message for the students: Hard work and dedication can pay off.
Berger grew up a few blocks from the school, practiced hard and eventually made it to the NFL, kicking his way to a Super Bowl win with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009.
At halftime of a basketball game last Thursday (Jan. 7), Berger presented a special football to the school as part of a program celebrating the 50th Super Bowl championship game, to be played Feb. 7.
“Me and my dad (Don) used to come down here and kick through these posts right here, when I was a kid,” Berger told the Now prior to the ceremony.
“It’s good to come back – I haven’t been here in a long time.”
The NFL’s Super Bowl High School Honor Roll initiative aims to recognize schools and communities “that contributed to Super Bowl history and positively impacted the game of football.”
Berger said he’s glad to be involved.
“It’s a way to thank the school for playing a part in my journey to professional football, to the Super Bowl,” said Berger, who recently moved from Vancouver to South Surrey.
His wife, model Bambi Lashell, and 14-month-old son, M.J., or Mitchell Jr., attended the brief ceremony in North Delta, along with his parents, Don and Evelyn, who now live in Surrey. Berger’s former football coaches Walter Becker and Brian McGill were also in the gym to celebrate the occasion.
The gold ball will be placed in a trophy case in the school’s front hallway, said vice-principal James Johnston, who organized the ceremony and helps coach the Huskies’ senior boys basketball team.
“I’m a North Delta resident and also grew up in the area, so I think it’s important that we connect the current students with the history of the school, and this school has a fantastic history with guys like Mitch,” said Johnston.
The NFL program can include $5,000 in grant money for the high schools involved.
“I’m not sure if we’re going to qualify for the grant, which is supposed to support football in the school, which we no longer have here,” Johnston explained. “But we’re hoping it could be used for things like teaching our students about community – we hope the money could be used for that, we’d love that.”
Berger is one of only 15 Canadians to be part of the NFL’s gold-ball program.
“Mitch still feels connected to the community, obviously, which is why he’s here today, to connect that circle,” Johnston said.
Berger began kicking footballs at age seven. He played on community teams until his senior year at North Delta, when he and others joined the school team.
“He was our quarterback, and Mitch never wanted to leave the field, so he also kicked on special teams and he played DB (defensive back), too,” Becker recalled. “We didn’t want to get him hurt, so we pulled him off DB every so often, but he played well enough in that position that he made the all-star team as both a kicker and defensive back that year, which is amazing.”
The football team didn’t win a championship that year, but Berger played on the school’s provincial-title basketball team of 1990.
Today, Berger is retired from football, having played in two Pro Bowl all-star games and for 11 different teams from 1994 until 2009. He now works as a football analyst on radio and TV.
The football goalpost his father Don built for him in the backyard of their former home, on 116th Street, still stands.
“The post is three feet in the ground with cement, so it should be there for awhile,” Don said with a smile.
Don, originally from Pittsburgh, was in the stadium in Tampa, along with the rest of the family, when Mitch won the Super Bowl with the Steelers.
“It was incredible,” Evelyn recalled. “To come from Pittsburgh, be a Steelers fan and then to have your son win a Super Bowl with the team – that’s what you write books about, you know.”