Berwick dedicates field to Cliff Watson
By: SCOTT JOINER
Berwick High School was a busy place last week with homecoming festivities dotting the schedule.
But, the community took time to reflect and honor one of its own prior to Friday night’s game.
Clifford Watson was principal of BHS for 25 years and could be seen regularly at football, basketball, baseball and softball games long after his retirement in 1995.
The staff at BHS decided to honor its longtime leader, friend and mentor by naming the field at Geisler Stadium after him.
The scoreboard now carries his name and a memorial fund was set up in lieu of flowers after his passing on Feb. 26 with funds going to support different clubs at the school in need of funds.
Watson’s wife of 46 years, Sandra Naquin Watson, said the ceremony before the homecoming game was emotional.
“We held it together, but it was very emotional — very emotional,” Watson said. “Everybody would come out of the bleachers and talk to us and tell us how much they appreciated him. They would talk about how they missed seeing his chair down on the track when he couldn’t go up in the bleachers. We had about 50 family members, three brothers, a sister and an aunt that was there.”
Watson said her husband wasn’t one to seek out attention, but that he would have appreciated the honor at the school he held in such high regard.
“He was a very humble man and he didn’t really like to be spotlighted, but he would really appreciate all that the community has done for him. He always did appreciate what they did for us,” Watson said.
During his time at Berwick, Watson coached football, basketball and track and was a member of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s executive committee for eight years.
Current Berwick track coach and assistant football coach Paul Gilder played for Watson in the 80s and went to school with his daughter Shelli and son Roger.
“As an alumni, it’s great to do that,” Gilder said. “He was very much in academics but he was also supportive of athletics. He loved Berwick High School. It was more than a job, it was a part of his life. It shows when you finish a job if you’re still part of that. He always wondered how things were going and kept tabs on things afterwards. He couldn’t walk up the stairs in the later years of his life but he got his chair and sat on the track and watched games from there.”
Even after his retirement, Watson was a fixture at sporting events regardless of wins and losses — he supported the Panthers and Lady Panthers.
“Football, baseball, basketball — he tried to do everything,” Mrs. Watson said. “Of course when he was principal he had to be there. But, afterwards, he followed all the teams the best he could.”
Gilder said he had support from Mr. Watson throughout high school and after graduating and that continued once he returned as a teacher and coach.
“Even after I graduated he still supported Berwick High School and still supported me,” Gilder said. “Even the last few years he was always still around the program whether it was basketball, track or football.”
At times, the retired principal would visit the school during the day for lunch to see old friends, keeping his links to the school strong.
“We would go up for lunch sometimes during the day and visit with everybody during their recess time and visit with the cafeteria ladies — all that good stuff,” Mrs. Watson said.
Not long after Mr. Watson’s passing, BHS principal Buffy Fegenbush and the staff thought the field dedication would be a good idea and took the idea to the school board.
“One day I was up at school giving out checks for the Cliff Watson Memorial Fund to the extracurricular classes,” Watson said. “Buffy said we needed to come into her office and my two grandchildren and I were giving the checks out. She said that she would propose dedicating the field to the school board. That’s how we found out about it.”
Fegenbush didn’t work with Watson, taking the principal job 10 years after his retirement, but she considered him a mentor and a solid source of advice.
“He became sort of a fatherly mentor to me,” Fegenbush said. “I often would go to him for advice and support.”
Watson came to Berwick in 1958 and his impact on the school and community will not be forgotten any time soon. The field being dedicated in his honor will make sure of that.
“I really, really appreciate what the town and community has done — plus the school has done for our family and the honor for us to enjoy knowing this field will be permanently named after him,” Watson said.