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Don Berich Don Berich
Inducted: 2007 - Graduated: 1975




The Nanuet track teams of the early and mid-1970s were a brash and cocky bunch who knew how to win. Coach Dave Hanson’s Golden Knights collected County and Section 9 team championships by the bushel and intimidated some teams just by stepping off the bus. They had an army of 60 guys clad in fuzzy yellow warm-up sweats seemingly brought out of mothballs from the Jim Thorpe era.


For four of those years – 1972 through ’75 – Don Berich was a key engine in the Nanuet machine. He blasted out of the gate as a freshman hurdler and kept clearing barriers until his name was permanently etched among Rockland’s greatest in his event. A New York State indoor champion in the 60-yard high hurdles in 1975, Don also was state runner-up indoors his junior year and outdoors his senior year. He holds the Rockland County record in the indoor 60-yard high hurdles at 7.2 seconds, and is No. 4 outdoors in the 120-yard high hurdles at 14.0.


“Donnie was an athlete.  He could have played any sport he wanted to,” says Dave Hanson. “He had a great deal of natural talent and picked things up easily.  He also was one of the toughest competitors I ever had.”


Don played football in the fall of his freshman year but thereafter devoted his athletic pursuits solely to track. He was drawn to the excitement and winning tradition of Nanuet’s track program at an early age. “When I was in seventh and eighth grade I would come over to watch the track meets at the high school,” he says. “Track was well-developed at Nanuet. Watching the Nanuet Relays and other meets was a spectacle. That fueled the fire.”


He wasted no time making an immediate impression, setting the state freshman class record in both the indoor 60-yard hurdles, 7.6, and outdoor 120-yard hurdles, 14.7; winning the Section 9 Class B indoor title; and anchoring Nanuet’s 880-yard relay to victory at the spring County meet. He later set the state indoor class records for sophomores and juniors as well.


“I wasn’t the fastest man on the track, but going over the hurdle came natural to me,” says Don, who at 5-foot-11 is not exceptionally tall for a hurdler. “I’m left-footed and right-handed, which is an unusual combination. I had no problem attacking the hurdle.”


Don went on to win an unprecedented three straight County titles in the 120-yard high hurdles and added County crowns in the 180-yard low hurdles (1973) and 330-yard intermediate hurdles (1974). He won the Loucks Games against a star-studded field his senior year, finished second in the Eastern States championships, and scored four straight years at the indoor state meet in the hurdles – fifth, third, second, and first.


In addition, Don led Nanuet to victory at the ’75 County meet with victories in the 120-yard hurdles (meet-record 14.1) and 220-yard dash (22.8), earning him the award for outstanding performer of the meet. He also was undefeated in the high hurdles from his sophomore year on against Rockland and Section 9 competition.


One of Don’s most vivid memories of his scholastic track career occurred in the spring of his freshman year, when the Knights and host Clarkstown squared off in a clash of Rockland County titans. The meet came down to the final event, the mile relay, and guess who got the anchor-leg assignment for the Knights?


“Coach Hanson said, ‘Hey Berich, come over here,’ ” Don recalls. “He told me I was running anchor leg [against Clarkstown’s Chuck Longo, a premier quarter-miler].  I didn’t know any better. I remember it was threatening to rain, and we were running on Clarkstown’s cinder track. When I got the baton I had a 10-yard lead, and I was running scared. All I could think of was, “just keep running, keep running.” That he did, maintaining his margin to the finish line, cementing the meet for Nanuet – and outrunning the ensuing torrential downpour, which quickly turned the cinder oval into a quagmire.


Don also fondly recalls the closeness of those Nanuet teams, guys like Brian Scully, Paul Coopersmith, Jim O’Rourke, John Hammeran, Glen Weiser, Larry Finucane, Paul Dertinger, Mark Forlow, John McNulty, Bret Watzka and others. “We were very tight,” Don says. “The middle distance guys got along with the sprinters and field event guys.   We would eat lunch together, hang out together. We were a pretty crazy bunch but we were serious when we got to the track. Coach Hanson was the ringleader.  He was able to coordinate us and bring us back if we stepped out of line.”


The Knights of that era were in the midst of a redoubtable run that included 16 Rockland County titles (eight apiece indoors and outdoors) and 15 Section 9 Class B flags (eight outdoors, seven indoors). The 1975 spring track team – led by Don, shot putter Tony Harlin and a solid cast of contributors – was voted one of the top five Rockland County athletic teams from 1960 to 1985 in a poll of readers of the Rockland Journal News.


Don earned a partial athletic scholarship to the University of Maryland, which annually restocked its team with national-caliber hurdlers. One of those recruits added during his tenure was Renaldo Nehemiah, who later set the world record in the 110-meter hurdles (12.93). “In high school, I was a big fish in a little pond,” Don says. “In college it was the opposite.” His biggest collegiate highlight was running on Maryland’s winning shuttle hurdle relay at the Penn Relays his senior year. Don’s best times for the college 42-inch hurdles were 14.2 outdoors and 7.5 indoors.


Don graduated from Maryland in 1979 with a degree in physical education. He later went into banking, and recently was appointed vice president and branch manager at Patriot National Bank in Fairfield, Conn. Previously he worked for seven years at Wachovia Bank, helping clients with bank products, investments and loans. Don, who is 51, lives in Branford, Conn., with his wife, Nancy, and two children: Chris, 22, a former state champion swimmer at Branford High and recent St. Lawrence University graduate now in grad school at Quinnipiac University; and Ashlyn, 19, a sophomore at Quinnipiac.