Sometimes life isn’t fair. It certainly wasn’t on the afternoon of January 29, 1997, when 42-year-old Billy Bernat died shortly after being admitted to Albany Medical Center. I wasn’t a close friend of Billy’s but you didn’t have to be to like him anyway. He was a year behind me at Wilbur Lynch High School and he was always smiling and upbeat. He was a superb athlete in high school. I believe he made the varsity squads of all three major sports as a sophomore, which was incredibly hard to do. But his best sport was baseball. As a senior, Bernat was a left-handed starting pitcher for Brian Mee’s 1973 Class A Section II Champions. That was the first-ever sectional championship for Amsterdam baseball and it ended the Suburban Council’s dominance over the old Class A League in sectional play. Bernat was the mound ace on that very good squad. He went a perfect 7-0 that season and one of his victories was an amazing 11-inning complete game stint over Mt. Pleasant! He was also one of the team’s best hitters. That Ram nine finished the season with16 straight victories with Billy getting the win over powerhouse Shenendehowa in the championship.
Billy was named after his Dad, a popular local insurance agent who never missed one of his son’s games. His Mom Pauline was a nurse. He also had two sisters. The Bernat’s were a solid close-knit family.
After high school, he had gone to St. Rose and after getting his degree from there he went to work as a salesman for a food broker in Albany. He married an Amsterdam girl named Maureen Harrington, who was the daughter of former Amsterdam mailman Jack Harrington and his wife Anne. They had settled in Altamont and had two daughters. He and his wife were back in Amsterdam often with their children and Billy kept in touch with old buddies via his memberships at Bigelow Weavers and Irish American Club. What made Billy’s death at such a young age so hard for me to believe was the fact that he had always kept himself in great shape. He exercised regularly at the Albany Y. His family buried his remains in St. Stephen’s cemetery in the village of Hagaman, where he grew up.
An annual award is given in Billy’s honor by the Amsterdam High School Football Booster Club which recognizes a volunteer for contributions to the AHS Football program that go above and beyond what has been asked of that individual. It has become a distinguished annual honor given in memory of a highly admired and wonderfully talented former AHS athlete.