Wes Berg has won a Minto Cup, an NCAA Division I national championship, an MLL title and a World Lacrosse Championships gold medal. But what he’s most proud of from his career never happened in a game.
In 2019, Berg was traded from the Calgary Roughnecks to the San Diego Seals. It opened him up to amazing possibilities off the field.
He took his typical role as forward on the floor when he joined the Seals. Berg also assumed the position of coach.
Every Wednesday, the Seals host their Jumpstart program at the Salvation Army Kroc Center. All equipment is provided, no previous lacrosse experience is needed, it’s open to all boys and girls grades kindergarten through eighth, and it’s free of charge. Kids receive training and instruction from Seals players, and Berg is so deeply involved, he’s become the point of contact for the program.
“Because the weather is so nice here, we can still do things outside as long as you’re social distancing,” Berg said. “At the Salvation Army Kroc Center, they have a huge field for us, so we can bring all these kids from the community.”
Before the pandemic, Berg was part of a Seals initiative to travel to schools around San Diego introducing kids, many of whom have never heard of lacrosse, to the game in gym classes and large assemblies. In the meantime, virtual learning programs have been put in place to continue spreading the sport.
There are also the Jr. Seals, the more advanced travel team that the NLL organization offers. It will aid players in need with scholarships when necessary, and several members of the program have come from Berg’s school presentations and Jumpstart.
Through a number of methods, engaging with youth has become part of Wes Berg’s routine.
Many of the kids he has interacted with come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and even if they have an interest in lacrosse, the cost to play can be prohibitive for many.
It’s not something Berg fully grasped growing up. He was afforded opportunities in lacrosse, hockey, and any other athletic endeavor he wanted – in part because his parents could afford it. Not only could they pay for it, but they could sacrifice the time for all the required travel. So many are not so fortunate.
“When you’re growing up, you don’t realize how lucky you are,” Berg explained. “My mom driving me out to these hockey tournaments out in the middle of nowhere on a Wednesday night, two hours to a game, and things like that. You don’t even realize the financial burden, with the traveling and some of the equipment. You really take it for granted.”
Wes Berg had some friends who loved lacrosse and played street hockey but never were on organized teams. Eventually, he began to put the pieces together.
“I guess when you’re at a young age, you don’t understand that not everybody has that opportunity,” he said. “I was really lucky my parents put me in that, I had a brother who let me tag along everywhere he would go and play. I look back and feel so fortunate to have had that childhood. Some communities that just don’t have that support to play certain sports.”
The Seal said he feels an obligation to not only grow the game, but to do what he can to provide opportunities to children who aren’t as lucky as he was.
“It’s important that I get out in the community and help,” Berg said. “Especially right now with the pandemic and a lot of funding being cut for things, this is a vital time to try to help these kids, build a platform where they can play organized sports and not be held back.”
That’s why coaching, mentoring and opening lacrosse doors is what he’s most proud of from his career.
“The game has given me a lot. It’s given me a lot of great relationships with a lot of awesome people,” Berg explained. “Being able to coach kids, help them get recruited to some tournaments, and doing this Jumpstart program, it’s all so amazing.”
Berg acknowledged that he wouldn’t have his championships and career without the help of others, and it extends well beyond his immediate family.
“I wouldn’t even be close to where I am without guys like Mark Matthews and people who have helped me so much along the way – my parents, my coaches, and people in the community,” he said. “I’m proud to be able to try to give some of that back to some kids, or even younger players who I’ve played with who have gone through situations that I’ve been through.”
Lacrosse was introduced to Wes Berg before he can remember. His father was a hockey and lacrosse player, and he nearly had sticks in both of his sons’ hands at birth. Berg grew up in both sports, and the lessons they taught him were invaluable.
“I learned a lot about character and being a good teammate,” he explained. “It gives you that culture when you’re younger, and you learn it through playing a team sport. It’s so important to understand how you’re only playing a small role, but it’s a team game.”
Those same lessons are what he aims to communicate through his coaching every day.
“Anything you do in life, you’re going to need to lean on somebody, and vice versa,” Berg said. “In anything you do, you can’t do it by yourself.”