There’s not likely a high school student athlete in the Verde Valley unfamiliar with Larson Newspapers sports reporter Brian Bergner Jr. — either on the sidelines or the newspaper page.
For more than three years, Bergner, 27, has covered almost every sport, attending everything from ball games and track meets to wrestling matches and roller derby bouts.
At 6 feet 8 inches tall, Bergner is a well-known figure in Sedona and the Verde Valley, but he’s on a first-name basis with nearly every coach in the area. He’s not just a writer with a brain for statistics. He’s played on the court and coached from the sidelines.
“I enjoy both coaching and being a sports writer,” Bergner said. “It’s fun covering all three towns.”
To Sedona sports fans, he’s been an assistant coach for the Sedona Red Rock High School baseball team and both boys and girls’ basketball teams.
“Coaching is one of those things that gives me a high,” Bergner said.
In April, he was hired on as SRRHS boys basketball head coach, coming full circle to a team on which he once played. He said he sees it as fulfilling a duty to serve as a mentor to athletes coming of age as adults.
“A lot of times, my teams are my kids. I felt the same when I was a kid — that the team was my extended family,” he said. “That’s my way to give back — coaching these young kids.”
Bergner was born in Milwaukee, Wis., the eldest of four children.
He has a brother, Jordan, now 22, and two sisters, Leah, 24, and Hannah, 19.
When Bergner was 13, his father, Brian Bergner Sr., quit a 15-year job managing a gas station and the family moved to Phoenix so his wife, Denise, could study at Al Collins Graphic Design School.
In 1997, just before the start of his freshman year, the Bergner family moved to the Sedona area. Until they got settled, all six lived in a pop-up trailer near what is now Sedona Shadows.
At the start of his freshman year, Bergner attended Sedona Red Rock High School. He played on the varsity football team as an offensive right tackle and defensive tackle. He suffered a right knee injury during the season and had to have surgery. Unable to play football, Bergner joined the SRRHS basketball team as a center in his sophomore year.
The team had a stellar 27-2 record in his junior year, losing in the state semifinals, and going 24-8 in his senior year, eliminated in the first round of playoffs.
In his senior year, Bergner returned to the varsity football team under coach Jim Cromartie.
After graduating in 2001, Bergner was contacted by Pete Gnan, the head basketball coach at Concordia University Wisconsin, a private Lutheran college in Milwaukee, and asked to play for the school. Bergner said he knew the best and easiest way to become a coach was first being a teacher, so he majored in secondary education with minors in public relations and athletic coaching.
Bergner played basketball his freshman year of college and also worked as assistant sports information director, producing media guides and updating the sports website.
He injured his left knee his sophomore year, effectively ending his playing ability in 2002. However, Bergner had already showed talent coaching and began working as the women’s basketball team assistant head coach — at only 20 years of age.
After three years at Concordia, Bergner transferred to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, changing his major to journalism with a minor in public relations. Not all of his credits transferred, so he had to retake a number of classes, extending his time in school to 5½ years.
NAU’s Head Sports Information Director Steve Shaff hired Bergner as an assistant, a job which helped pay his tuition.
He also started coaching SRRHS junior varsity girls basketball team in 2004.
While working in sports information, coaching at SRRHS and going to school full time, Bergner described his last years of college as “hectic.”
He graduated from NAU in December 2006 and moved on to coach the SRRHS boys junior varsity basketball team for the next three years.
Bergner worked at a Sedona gas station while looking for a position in his field after graduation. He was searching for jobs working in sports information, and said he finished as a top candidate for both the San Francisco Giants baseball club and Concordia University Oregon in Portland.
Coincidently in 2007, Larson Newspapers’ sports reporter position opened and Bergner was hired to cover sports for our three publications, the Sedona Red Rock News, The Camp Verde Journal and the Cottonwood Journal Extra.
In spring 2009, Bergner was varsity assistant coach for both boys baseball and girls basketball in the winter 2009-2010 season.
Bergner swims daily at a local gym and also plays summer league softball in Sedona for the A Day in the West team. But coaching kids is where his passion lies.
“I love working with kids. They’re growing up, becoming men,” Bergner said. “We had some kids graduate this year I’ve known since seventh grade.”
“When you see them outside, off the court, and you see who they’ve become, it makes you proud,” he said. “That’s what spurred my last [From the Cheap Seats] column — how athletics produces good citizens.”