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Feature Article on Bernie Kerns. Topic: SPORTS & PEOPLE
Written by Rich Wallace in November, 1997

STUDENT GOLFER NEVER LOST A REGULAR SEASON MATCH

Sidney Country Club -- now known as the Moose.

moosecountryclub.gif (74177 bytes)

Area golfers have followed with interest the accomplishments of Fairlawn's senior golfer Ryan Coyne, son of Tom and Sally Coyne. He won the district championship, a first for a Fairlawn golfer, and finished fourth overall in the state meet in his division recently. Many senior golfers may remember another local phenom, and the trail of glory he blazed across the links over 58 years ago. It was to be a Cinderella season for this Sidney High School athlete like no other in the history of the school. The recent successes of Ryan Coyne bring to mind the accomplishments of that great golfer. This is his story.

In the 1930s, golf was a spring sport, along with tennis and track and field. The 1939 edition of the 'thinclads' (as the track and field performers were known then) were expected to be a mediocre team at best, but many thought the tennis squad, led by Fred Dull and Bill Binkley would challenge the best teams in the area. After graduation, Fred Dull was destined to play a key role in the dynamic growth of Monarch Machine Tool company.

When coach Rodney Kolb assembled the Yellow Jacket golf team, there was talk in the community that the squad had promise, but that some of the younger players would have to come through. Among those youngsters was a sophomore named Bernie Kerns. Kerns was one of seven brothers, and all were good athletes. Besides golf, Bernie's other love was basketball. He was destined to be the star of the Sidney High School team during his last two years in school. Although only five feet eight inches tall, he played point guard and served as team captain his senior year.

Coach Kolb knew he had something special in Bernie Kerns. Under the tutelage of his father, Bernie had played the game since he was six years old. At the age of eleven, he switched from a left handed to a right handed player. By the age of 13, he was shooting in the 30s for nine holes. High school competition, however, might prove to be a different story. As the 1939 golf season began to unfold, things went well for Bernie. Sidney's home course was the Sidney Country Club (It subsequently became the home of the Moose). Bernie soon began to master the course as if he had designed it. Against Lima Central early in the season, he shot a 72, besting everyone else by four shots. Living a nightmare all too familiar to many golfers, Robbins of Sidney missed a two foot putt on the last hole to give Lima Central a tie in the match. Just three days later, Kerns again shot a 72, beating his opponent by 14 strokes as Sidney thumped Piqua.

During the weeks that followed, Bernie continued to dominate the competition. He beat the number one players for Troy and Urbana by nine strokes each. The result was no different when Sidney traveled there for the matches.

For the Miami Valley League championship, the six league teams traveled to Miamisburg to play the Mound Course. Twenty-four golfers teed off that day, and by the end of the afternoon, Kerns was again leading the pack. Bill Ross reported for the Sidney Daily News on May 8th that Kerns had fired a 77 - an amazing eight strokes better than his nearest competitor. Having earned medallist honors, he was awarded first prize: a single golf ball.

Even golfers on a Tiger Woods type of run falter on occasion. Against Lima Central on the Shawnee course in Lima, Kerns was bested by teammate Les Valentine for medallist honors. Bernie tied his opponent, however, to keep his unbeaten streak alive. That would be the closest he would come to losing a match. During the next week the talk among the golfers was about the upcoming match between Kerns and Don Pendergast of Lima South, Sidney's next opponent. Pendergast, a seasoned senior, had not lost a high school match in three years. Sophomore Kerns was on a roll, but to beat Pendergast would be a tall order.

Sophomore Kerns was on a roll, but to beat Pendergast would be a tall order. The match was played on the Sidney County Club course. By the end of the first nine holes, Bernie was two up as he carded a 38. He caught fire on the second nine, torching the course for a three under par 32. Kerns' 70 was ten shots better than Pendergast's 80. The Sidney sophomore had peaked at the right time. The district meet was next.

berniekerns.gif (76284 bytes)Unlike today, when athletes are divided into classes based upon the size of their school, in 1939 all the golfers competed head to head for the chance to qualify for the state meet. Sidney competed in the Dayton district. Bill Ross again reported on the action for the Daily News. The headline on the sports page the next Monday morning told it all: "KERNS SHOOTS SENSATIONAL 69" The golfers played the tough Snyder Park golf course in Springfield. Ross marveled: "Kerns' medal score, which was eight strokes better than runner-up Hamant of Dayton Chaminade, was little short of spectacular to say the least." Bernie collected six birdies and an eagle to finish three under par. His score of 69 was the lowest district score in district play ever recorded. Zack Crusey noted in a column 13 years later that Kerns' record was still unequalled up to that point .

It was with a high degree of confidence that Bernie Kerns approached the state meet the next weekend. Once again, he would be competing against all the other district qualifiers from across the state, regardless of school size. Kerns planned to challenge par again, but Mother Nature had other plans. Ryan Coyne also faced adverse weather conditions in 1996 at the state meet. Over half a decade earlier, Bernie Kerns experienced the same problem. On that day in late May of 1939, the wind and rain harassed the golfers unmercifully. Bernie shot a 77 to finish in 6th place. He was disappointed in his finish, but he had just finished what could arguably be described as the greatest season of accomplishments by a sophomore in the history of Sidney High School.

Bernie Kerns never made it back to the state meet. He did not lose one match play event during his junior and senior seasons, but he never repeated the trip to Columbus. Upon graduation in 1941, Bernie Kerns went off to war with so many other classmates. He served four years with the Navy Seabees in the South Pacific. When he got out of the service, Bernie returned to his home town. In 1947 he began working at the Moose golf course as head greenskeeper and course pro. He also married Aunalee Crusey that year. She was a champion in her own right, having won seven national casting championships as a teenager.

Many area players thought that Kerns could have easily made the pro golf tour. Bill Kenton, a regional golf writer, wrote a column on Bernie in July of 1951. He correctly observed that "Bernie was chalking up better scores as a Soph in high school than most pros who made their living at it." Kenton added: "Kerns was to Sidney High School golf what Jerry Brown as to Sidney High School football."

Bernie never made it to the pros. The necessity of a steady job and the raising of his new son, Steve, were more important. After five years as golf pro, Bernie accepted employment at Monarch in 1952. He remained there, working in the service department, for over 25 years. As his father had done before him, Bernie passed on his love of the game of golf to his son. Steve played varsity golf for Sidney High School.

Bernie Kerns never lost his love for the game of golf. He struggled with diabetes for over two decades prior to his death. Due poor circulation problems, he lost a leg in 1989. Bernie remained one of the best golfers in the area. He passed away in 1994.

Bernie never made it to the pros. The necessity of a steady job and the raising of his new son, Steve, were more important. After five years as golf pro, Bernie accepted employment at Monarch in 1952. He remained there, working in the service department, for over 25 years. As his father had done before him, Bernie passed on his love of the game of golf to his son. Steve played varsity golf for Sidney High School.

Bernie Kerns never lost his love for the game of golf. He struggled with diabetes for over two decades prior to his death. Due poor circulation problems, he lost a leg in 1989. Bernie remained one of the best golfers in the area. He passed away in 1994.

berniekernsandsonongolfcourse.gif (135879 bytes)
Bernie Kerns (at right) plays golf with his son, Steve, age 4, at the Moose Lodge golf course in 1952.
For a time, he was golf pro at the Lodge.

 

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