From Star Athlete to Tragic Loss, The Story of the Man Behind Cornell Soccer’s Berman Field

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Updated: March 17, 2015

Walking up Cornell’s iconic Tower Road, one can catch a glimpse of some of the most important buildings on campus: Day, Uris, Ives, Mudd, Kennedy, and Weill Hall precede the sports complex that is home to the Cornell Big Red. Schoellkopf’s towering floodlights and the majestic Bartels Hall often cast a shadow upon one of the lesser-known athletics venues: Berman Field. Home to Cornell Men’s and Women’s Soccer, Berman Field is still building up its own history, being one of the newer venues on campus. It was named in the honor of Charles Francis Patrick Berman – a Cornell alumnus with no shortage of history himself.

Berman was born in Manhattan just over 90 years ago, on March 2nd, 1925. He attended The Kew-Forest School – a co-ed school in Queens established in 1918 (interestingly, Donald Trump attended Kew-Forest some 20 years after Berman). He graduated in 1943, and served for four years in the Naval Air Corps as an Aviation Radioman. After the Second World War ended, he joined Cornell as a Chemical Engineering major as a member of the class of 1949. It was his time at Cornell though, that resulted in Berman Field being named after him.

Berman entered Cornell Athletics’ history books after leading the Men’s Soccer team to four highly successful seasons between 1946 and 1949, including one undefeated season in 1948. Known to be a fiery forward, Berman was an integral part of the team from his first year itself, and was the main man behind Cornell Soccer’s unprecedented golden period after the War. His contribution was recognized on the bigger stage as well: he was a part of the All-America Soccer first team for all four of his years in Ithaca.

In addition to being a star on the soccer pitch, Berman was also a part of the Cornell Baseball team for all four years: an unimaginable set of achievements in the current collegiate athletics world. Apart from being heavily involved with Cornell Athletics, Berman was also a member of several fraternities and societies, including Sigma Nu, Aleph Samach, and the prestigious Quill and Dagger honor society.

On completing his time at Cornell, Berman entered his family’s departmental store business in New York as a merchandise manager (coincidentally, the store was located at 1472 Broadway, which now houses the merchandise giant H&M). Berman’s records from the 1950s indicate that at some point, this departmental store was moved to a town in Tennessee, though the reason for this is unclear.

One can only wonder what Berman’s contribution to the Cornell Soccer program would have been, had it not been for his sudden death in 1960. Traveling from New York City to Montego Bay (in northern Jamaica), Berman perished in Avianca Airline’s Flight 671 on January 21st. The plane took off from New York International Airport (which we now know as JFK), and made an unscheduled stop at Miami for engine repairs. The Colombian airliner was halted at Miami for approximately ten hours, before it took off once more for Montego Bay.

Newspaper clippings present in Berman’s file at the Cornell Archives indicate that it was a combination of a landing gear failure and adverse weather conditions at Montego Bay that caused the Super Constellation airliner to crash on its approach. Supposedly, the plane touched down before turning over, exploding and catching fire, taking the lives of thirty-seven people in the process. Among these thirty-seven were Charles Berman and his wife, Marian, who were reportedly on a vacation. Their two sons, Charles Jr. (5) and Michael (3) had stayed at home. The Avianca crash was the fourth major air disaster of the new year: in the first three weeks of 1960, the lives of 163 people had been lost due to airline accidents.

Unfortunately, Cornell Athletics lost one of its icons in the form of Berman, aged just 35 at the time. More than 55 years after his death, though, the legacy of Charles F. Berman lives on in the form of Berman Field. Perhaps, then, it’s only fitting that when I requested the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections at Cornell for Berman’s deceased alumni file, I received the following reply:

“We haven’t deceased him yet, though the alumni office has. Look in living alums.”

One Comment

  1. jay kew

    April 11, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    What a story! And what a tragic loss. Charles Berman sounds like an amazing guy. A standout amongst that cohort of the Greatest Generation: star athlete (4 year All American!), military service, excellent student, honorable gentleman. As he looks down from above, Charles Francis Patrick Berman can rightfully take pride in the fine men his two sons have grown into. Smart, bold, accomplished men of integrity, loved by all who know them. They represent quite a legacy for the Berman family.

    Jay Kew

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