Gerry Bertier was one of the best players and leaders on a team known as perhaps the best in the history of Virginia high school football — the 1971 T.C. Williams Titans.
From his linebacker position, Bertier was an opposing quarterback's worst fear and spear-headed a T.C. Williams defense which recorded nine shutouts in that '71 campaign, including a 27-0 Titans triumph over Salem's Andrew Lewis in that season's state championship game in Roanoke.
"He was just a very intense player who could run the field sideline to sideline," said Alexandria sports historian Greg Paspatis, of Bertier. "He was a very fiery player — a Dick Butkus, Mike Curtis type player."
Bertier and the Titans' '71 heroics would be glorified years later in the 2000 Disney mega movie production, `Remember The Titans.'
Bertier, named the 1971 national prep school football player of the year, was rendered paraplegic in a December car accident the night of T.C.'s football banquet following that season. Ten years later, he died in another auto accident.
Today, the T.C. Williams main gymnasium is named after the Titan great. A sports showcase outside the gymnasium features numerous T.C. athletic exploits over the years. There, one can find a number of special Bertier keepsakes — the famed Titans' letterman jacket he wore, a city proclamation in honor of him following his death, and pictures of his on-the-field heroics during his high school playing days.
Bertier, whose T.C. Williams jersey No. 42 is retired, played his first three high school football seasons at the old Hammond High School. As a sophomore, he was a starter on Hammond's squad which defeated coach Chuck Sell's Falls Church Jaguars in the 1969 Northern Region championship game played at George Washington High School.
Both Hammond and George Washington High Schools closed following the 1970-'71 school year, however, and students were sent to T.C. Williams.
WITH FOOTBALL PLAYERS from three different schools coming together for the first time in the fall of 1971, Bertier and teammate Julius Campbell, among others, stepped up to bring the new-look Titans together. T.C., a team made up of such stars as Frankie Glascoe, Earl Cook, Brad Smith, Jim Brown and quarterback Ronnie Bass, went on to go a perfect 13-0 overall while outscoring their opponents by an unbelievable 338-38 margin. The Titans' defense, led by Bertier and Campbell — who in 1992 were both named First Team Defense on the Connection Newspaper's Football Dream Team — were known as the "Monsters of King Street."
In a Nov. 15, 1978 Alexandria Gazette article, reporter Ben Morris wrote of the '71 Titans, "It all came about and was possible through the hard work and sacrifices of these young men and their coaches who worked together proving to everybody that different ethnic groups can mesh unanimously for a singular ambition."
Bertier, who once pulled down a quarterback just as the signal caller was passing the ball and hustled 40 yards downfield to run the receiver down on the same play, accumulated 142 tackles and 42 QB sacks during the ' 71 season. Campbell, from his defensive end position, brought down opposing quarterbacks 34 times.
Bertier garnered numerous accolades following the season — First Team All-Region, All-State, and All-American honors as well as being named the Alexandria Sportsman's Club Football Player of the Year.
Bertier, along with being a tremendous on-field force, was also a determined, fierce competitor who expected his teammates to give their best week-in and week-out.
"Those who played around him had to have the same expectations for success [he] did or they had to be prepared to whip him," said '71 T.C. head coach Herman Boone in a December 1992 Gazette story. "He was probably the best linebacker in the country at the time."
BERTIER'S DEVASTATING INJURY following his senior football season did not destroy his fortitude. While the car accident was a stunning blow to T.C. Williams and the local community, Bertier, who had been born and raised in Alexandria, dealt with the hardship heroically and ultimately became an advocate for the handicapped.
He became heavily involved in the Wheelchair Olympics where he would set state and national records. His will to compete and lead others was undaunted.
Part of an April 2, 1981 Commonwealth of Virginia General Assembly proclamation in Bertier's honor following his death reads, "Although tragedy struck at the end of his senior year when Gerry was badly injured in an automobile accident which left him permanently paralyzed, he never lost his ambition and zest for living, and Gerry devoted himself to maintaining as normal a life as possible and helping encourage others to do the same."
The Committee of Employment of the Handicapped posthumously named Bertier `Volunteer of the Year for 1981.'
Bertier, in the years prior to his death, helped raise funding for the Special Olympics and helped start the first Walkathon. One time, in his wheelchair, he traveled 30 miles in five hours, 36 minutes in a fund-raising effort.
Just as Bertier, during his years as a high school football standout at both T.C. Williams and Hammond, always had a `Team First' mindset, the same was true for his approach to people and athletics as a Wheelchair Olympian who once represented his country as a member of the U.S. team at the Wheelchair Olympics in Scotland.
The General Assembly proclamation further reads, "Whereas Gerry Bertier never forgot the needs of people around him and participated actively in various civic and common projects."
Just over a year-and-a-half following Bertier's death on March 20, 1981 at age 29, a resolution to name the T.C. gymnasium — also known as The Garden — was made. Part of that resolution reads, "Alexandria's first high school All-American football player... who becoming a paraplegic in an automobile accident, was for a decade a leading advocate for disabled persons by participating in world wheelchair basketball and other sports in Olympic Wheelchair Games. ...And be it further resolved that the main gymnasium at T.C. Williams High School, the school where Gerry W. Bertier captained the city's first Virginia State Championship football team, be named the Gerry W. Bertier Memorial Gymnasium."
In June of 1999, Bertier was recognized by the Alexandria Sportsman's Club as one of Alexandria's 100 Greatest Athletes of all time.
Gerry Bertier is 40 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.