Ken Bernabe ’69 will be honored this summer by the New Jersey Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum with a “Lifetime Service to Wrestling” award.
“I am completely overwhelmed by this,” said Bernabe, who graduated from Bridgewater-Raritan (N.J.) High School before coming to Rider to help start the wrestling program. “We literally were knocking on dorm room doors and raiding the strong intramural wrestling program for varsity wrestlers.”
“Ken Bernabe has been involved in all facets of wrestling over his lifetime,” said Rider head coach Gary Taylor. “As a wrestler, as a coach, as an official, and as a speaker, he has been a great ambassador for the sport in all of these areas.”
After Rider, Bernabe returned to Bridgewater-Raritan as an assistant wrestling coach until being named head coach at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School in 1973. In five years there, he compiled a 54-16-2 record.
Bernabe began officiating the sport in 1978 and continued until 2010.
“I can’t think of a person who deserves this honor more than Ken,” said Chet Dalgewicz, a former collegiate wrestling official and wrestling coach at Princeton University, who served 15 years as an associate director of Athletics at Rider. “Ken’s a class person who was successful at everything he did, as a coach, an administrator and as an official. He’s a credit to Rider.”
Bernabe has served as president of the New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association and was an Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling official for 22 years.
Off the mat, Bernabe worked an assistant principal in Spotswood and West Orange before becoming principal at Delsea High School until he retired in 2005. For the last nine years, he has also been a part-time instructor at Holy Family University.
“When I heard of the award, I think I was speechless for the first time in a long time,” Bernabe said. “It is so humbling. It is a culmination of a lot of years of commitment to something that’s really important to me. This profession owes me nothing. I owe the profession everything.”
Taylor said the honor is well-deserved.
“He was one of the early wrestlers who played a valuable role in the foundation of Rider wrestling,” Taylor said. “He continues to be a strong supporter of the program, and I extend heartfelt congratulations to him.”