|Born||August 20, 1953|
|Died||March 20, 1981
Gerry Bertier (pronounced with a hard G sound (like Gary); August 20, 1953 – March 20, 1981) was a prominent Virginia high school American football player. He is best known for his participation on the 1971 Virginia State Champion T. C. Williams High School team and their portrayal in the Disney film Remember the Titans. After the conclusion of the 1971 season, Bertier was involved in an automobile accident by a drunk driver, that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Despite this injury, Bertier remained an active athlete, participating in the Paralympics and winning multiple medals. Bertier was killed on March 20, 1981 at the age of 27 in a second car crash. Today, the Gerry Bertier #42 Foundation is dedicated to raising money for research on spinal cord injuries. There is also a gymnasium at T. C. Williams which bears his name.
Bertier's parents divorced early in his childhood (around age 8) and he was raised primarily by his mother, until she remarried to Robert Agnew. As a child and young man, Bertier was described as an amiable, goal-oriented individual. Growing up, Bertier frequently discussed his lifetime goal of winning a gold medal in the Olympics, and as an active participant in various athletics, seemed to be on track for this goal.
High school career
Bertier began his high school career at Hammond High School and joined the football team. He became a key player, soon becoming the backbone of the defense. As a sophomore, he was starting linebacker, a position for which he won many honors. However, he was only able to play three seasons, when Hammond H.S. was merged with two other Alexandria high schools to form T.C. Williams High School. The consolidation meant there were many new faces on the football team as well as on the coaching staff, which caused racial tension between team members. This new mixture of Titans was forced to come together as a single successful team, dealing with the issue of racial prejudice, a difficult battle for many members of the team. As a captain, Bertier, along with friend and teammate defensive end Julius Campbell, supported their teammates through this time of struggle. Even though the team was still struggling with prejudice as the season opener rolled around, the strife was not evident in the way the T.C. Titans began the 1971 season. The Titans went 13-0, including nine shut outs, and went on to win the Virginia State Championship. During the Titans' undefeated season, they also outscored their opponents by a 357-45 margin. Bertier's stats during the season included 142 tackles, 42 sacks. Bertier was named team Defensive Most Valuable Player. He was named National Prep School Football Player of the Year, and received First Team All-Region, All-State, and All-American honors. As he prepared to move to the next level, Bertier received many football scholarship offers from prominent colleges like Notre Dame and University of Alabama.
On December 11, 1971, Bertier attended a banquet honoring the players of the 1971, T.C. Williams Titans football team for their undefeated season. After the banquet, Bertier borrowed his mother's new 1971 Chevrolet Camaro. Bertier lost control of the Camaro and crashed. The cause of the accident was determined to be a mechanical failure in the motor mount of his engine. Following the accident, Bertier was rushed to the Alexandria Hospital in critical condition. After initially stabilizing him, the doctors determined that his lungs had been pierced by his sternum, which went into his spinal column. Because of the severity of his injuries, Bertier initially had to be operated on in the X-ray room, only moving to the operating room when he was stabilized. Although doctors tried to relieve pressure on his spine to help him regain some feeling, it was unsuccessful. Bertier would live the rest of his life as a paraplegic.
A month after the accident, Bertier accepted an award for being the most outstanding defensive player in the metropolitan area, a ceremony he arrived at in an ambulance. Bertier had difficulty adjusting to paralysis and life in a wheelchair, confessing to assistant head coach Bill Yoast that "it took him two years to accept the fact from the time of the accident that he would be crippled for life." Once he did accept it, nothing held Bertier back from helping others. Bertier told his mother, "I don't care if I'm paralyzed [from the waist down]. God left me with my brain and I'm going to use it to help people [who are] less fortunate."
During the next year, Bertier coordinated with Alexandria Junior Colleges to set up a "Walk for Mankind," and encouraged students, adults, company executives to donate. Bertier occasionally met with others who suffered similar injuries, helping them with their rehabilitation. Outside of his hometown, Gerry made speeches across the country for rights for the handicapped. He addressed subjects such as making buildings handicapped accessible. Bertier worked at Abbey Medical, selling medical equipment to the handicapped. His position allowed him to attend wheelchair sporting events held nationally.
As of 2015, the 71 Original Titans, established by the Coaches, Players, and Cheerleaders from the 1971 Virginia AAA State Champion Varsity Football Team of T. C. Williams High School, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping High School Students pursue post-secondary education.
After Bertier recuperated from his injuries, he once again became a competitive athlete. According to his sister, Becky Britt, "During Gerry's childhood he had mentioned being in the Olympics. His long-term goal was to receive a gold medal." He decided to occupy himself in Wheelchair Track and Field, the Wheelchair Basketball League, and the United States Paralympics, setting state and national records. He was coached throughout his life by Bill Yoast, winning gold medals in both the discus throw and shot put.[dubious ]
On March 20, 1981, Bertier was killed in a car accident while returning home from a business trip. Driving alone, his southbound 1980 Oldsmobile collided with a northbound car, which crossed over the center line on Route 20 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Bertier died nearly two hours later in the University of Virginia hospital. A man from Schulyer, Virginia was charged with manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol in connection with the accident.
Remember the Titans
Gerry Bertier was portrayed in the Disney film Remember the Titans by actor Ryan Hurst. A lot of the film is historically inaccurate, and there are many aspects of Bertier's portrayal in the film that are not completely factual. Certain elements of Gerry's personal life were embellished, while other elements were complete fabrications. One example of this is Bertier's girlfriend: in the film, Gerry has a girlfriend named Emma (played by Kate Bosworth) who has difficulty accepting Bertier's newfound respect for his black teammates while, in reality, Bertier did have a girlfriend, but her name was Becky. Bertier did not enter his first day at T.C. Williams amidst a sea of protestors. Bertier and Campbell were close friends, but not to the degree that they were in Remember the Titans. Their relationship was much like their relationships with any of their other teammates. In the film, Bertier only sneaks Julius in to see him by calling him his brother while in the hospital after his accident, but this treatment was not reserved for Julius. In fact, many teammates were allowed in to see Bertier under the guise of immediate family.
Bertier's on-the-field portrayal in the film, however, is almost entirely correct. As the team's defensive captain, Bertier was a dominating force on the linebacking corps and received All-American honors following the team's championship season. Although heralded as an exceptional leader on and off the football field, Bertier's duties never included cutting fellow players from the team as he was shown doing in the film.
Gerry Bertier #42 Foundation
After becoming paralyzed, Bertier became very active in assisting other victims of spinal cord injuries. Bertier frequented the spinal cord injury wards of local hospitals to help victims with their acceptance of the injury and eventually their rehabilitation. After Bertier died in 1981, his sister, Becky Britt, decided to continue his legacy. Her recent creation of the "Gerry Bertier #42 Foundation." is meant to build upon Bertier's tradition of helping sufferers of spinal cord injuries. The foundation is dedicated to raising money for the research of spinal cord injuries and works with the Virginia Commonwealth University to host annual fundraising golf tournaments. These tournaments draw the support of many Virginia residents, including several members of the 1971 T.C. Williams championship team. The second annual tournament was held September 29, 2007, at the Cannon Ridge Golf Club of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Proceeds were donated to the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Research Center of the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System (VCUHS). The 2007 tournament raised approximately $20,000 for donation to the VCUHS.
Football coaches and team members at T.C. Williams High School:
- "Gerry Bertier". 71 Original Titans. Archived from the original on 2008-07-30.
- Bill Yoast. ExecutiveSpeakers.com.
- Cooperlyzationra, Kym. "Athlete Killed in Crash Dealth With Paralysis By Helping Disabled." Washington Star. March 1981. (Archive: 31 August 2010)
- Sanders, Rich. "#42, Gerry Bertier, T.C. Williams, Football, 1972." Mount Vernon Gazette. 3 August 2006.
- Agnew, Jean. Triumph Over Tragedy. GerryBertier.com.
- Merron, Jeff. In the film the car Gerry crashes is a Camaro like it was in real life.Reel Life: 'Remember the Titans'. ESPN.com.
- Remember the Titans Movie True Story. ChasingtheFrog.com.
- "Tourney Helps People Remember One Titan." The Free Lance-Star. 19 September 2006. (Archive: 31 August 2010)
- The 2nd Annual Gerry Bertier #42 Foundation Charity Golf Tournament Brochure. GerryBertier.com.
- Janis, Malorie. VCU View: VCU Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Receives Gift From Spinal Cord Injury Foundation. Virginia Commonwealth University. 4 December 2007.