The Madison Heights Bishop Foley wrestling team, which co-ops with Madison Heights Madison, is aiming for a district championship.

The Madison Heights Bishop Foley wrestling team, which co-ops with Madison Heights Madison, is aiming for a district championship.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Bishop Foley wrestling coach reflects on his start in coaching

By: Mark Vest | Madison - Park News | Published January 31, 2020


MADISON HEIGHTS — More than 35 years ago, Berney Gonzales got a phone call from Jim Myers.

Aside from being known to many as professional wrestler George “The Animal” Steele, Myers was also a wrestling and football coach for Madison Heights Madison.

With Myers as his coach, Gonzales won two state titles wrestling for Madison in the 1970s.

The reason for Myers’ call was to find out if Gonzales would be willing to take over the wrestling program at Madison.

Gonzales agreed, and all these years later, he is still on the mat coaching.

After leaving Madison and accepting a position with Madison Heights Bishop Foley, the two schools eventually agreed to a co-op arrangement, allowing Gonzales to coach kids from both schools as part of the same team.

The decision to coach is one that Gonzales is glad he made.

“The very first season that I took on a coaching position, I thought, ‘This is my purpose; this is what God put me here to do, is to build champions,’” Gonzales said. “It has been a roller coaster of emotions. … But it’s fun.”

After all of Gonzales’ years of coaching, what was perhaps his high moment came last March when senior Kendel Taylor won a Division 3 state title in the 189-pound weight class. It was Gonzales’ first state champion during his tenure as a coach.

Although he could previously draw on his personal experiences as a wrestling champion, Gonzales can now remind student-athletes that he has also coached one.

“I can tell these kids my experiences, but now I did it; I produced a state champion,” Gonzales said. “So now, I’ve got that combination where I know I can do it. … Now I can tell them, ‘Look what Kendel did, but you got to do what I say, because I figured it out.’”

Having solidified an individual state title, there is something else Gonzales would like for the program that hasn’t happened in a while.

“We’ve put about six team district trophies in the case, but I think it’s been a good 10 years since (we’ve) won a district title,” he said. “We’d like to come out as team district champs. When we spread out our weight classes, we only have one void. … We’ve got the numbers this year that we can at least fill almost the whole lineup.”

A few of the wrestlers who can help the program achieve postseason success are seniors Luke Bishop (heavyweight) and Max Burk (189), and sophomore Kathryn Podolan (103).

Although Bishop would like to have success as a grappler, he has also thought about how the sport can help him away from the mat.

“It’s an extremely hard sport,” Bishop said. “Going to practice, going to tournaments over weekends, it’s very time-consuming. So when an employer sees, ‘Oh, he’s a wrestler,’ he’ll hopefully see that you might be the right person to work for him.”

From Burk’s perspective, wrestling can be “very beneficial.”

“It teaches me not to give up on a lot of stuff,” Burk said.

When it comes to his role as coach, Gonzales isn’t ready to give up, either.

“If I come in here and go through the motions, it’s time for me to go,” Gonzales said. “I’m not ready to retire yet. It’s been 36 years I’ve been coaching. … My energy level just goes up.”