If you were old enough in the 1970 era of sports in Arlington you were familiar with the name Bernie Kirchner. Bernie was a three-sport letterman and star for Yorktown High School which led to his receiving a scholarship to West Virginia University where he played wide receiver under a young and future NCAA Hall of Fame coach named Bobby Bowden. I recall as a kid my brothers and I were big fans of Bernie’s even though we lived in his rival Washington-Lee High School district. Our father used to take us to see him play as if he was a local celebrity, and to the Thomas boys he was.
Bernie came from a family of athletes beginning with his father Vince who starred at Washington-Lee thirty years before Bernie’s high school days. Bernie’s mother Blanche, a local art teaching icon in Arlington, shared with me the story about her talking Vince – who was playing minor league baseball for a team in Biloxi, MS at the time – out of signing another contract which would have taken them further west. She went on to tell me how upset their children were in later years when they learned their father might have been a famous Major League Baseball player. Blanche has lots of fun stories and remarkably, as of this date, she and her three sisters are alive in their 90’s and still telling those stories.
Following in Vince Kirchner’s footsteps on the ball field was Bernie’s older brother Joe who played for the legendary coach Al Burch at O’Connell High School in the early 1960’s. Joe was on the famous Arlington high school team that won a then record 42 straight games which landed them in the record books at Cooperstown. When the team finally lost in 1965, it was to future MLB pitcher Clay Kirby at Washington-Lee and little Bernie was the O’Connell bat boy that day.
Local writer Charlie Clark, who also attended Yorktown, shared some of Bernie’s accomplishments for this article. Here are just a few: Voted to the All-Metropolitan High School Football Team, not once, but twice; first player in Yorktown history to score over 1,000 points in basketball; and the leading hitter on the baseball team. Bernie played all three sports at least one season at WVU, and played football for four.
An interesting Arlington history note, Bernie was being scouted in high school by George McQuinn who was with the Montreal Expos (now Washington Nationals) franchise. Though Bernie let McQuinn know he intended to head off to college and play football, McQuinn still had the Expos draft Bernie. This is the same George McQuinn who attended Washington-Lee High School in the 1920’s, played in the big leagues, and came back to open a sporting goods store in Clarendon.
It was later in life, in the early 2000’s that I became friends with Bernie. Understandably, he had become an outstanding golfer and still has that Bernie wit. He will be the first to tell you he was a prankster which might have led to his not playing in the NFL but it didn’t stop his success in life. He owns two successful restaurants in Florida and is married to a wonderful wife who is an emergency room physician. One afternoon I had Bernie and Francine over for his birthday cookout and I asked him to bring his WVU yearbook. In typical Bernie fashion, he skipped his football photos and went straight to a page with a picture of the cheerleaders. With his familiar smile he proudly pointed out one of the cheerleaders and shared with us that it was Lady Ga Ga’s mother.
Thank goodness Blanche and Bernie kept his sports scrapbooks all these years. From Arlington Little League to the WVU football field, Bernie’s stories and his name should be remembered by Arlingtonians. To this day, some still argue Bernie Kirchner was the best athlete to come out of Arlington.
The AHS is pleased to share some of his rare memorabilia.