When Seth Berl began putting together his first Georgia Hawks basketball teams, his goal was to have one of his players earn a college scholarship.
Nineteen years and some 105 scholarships later, his goal now is to see one of his players perform in the National Basketball Association.
Berl has been steadfast over the years in saying that his primary aim with his Georgia Hawks teams is not to win games, but to have his players receive scholarships so they can continue their education.
And that has entailed taking teams of various age groups to the top tournaments in the East, to get them exposed to top competition and to let them perform in front of college coaches.
There are few of those college coaches who are not aware of the man from South Georgia who takes his fundamentally sound and disciplined teams to tournaments, where they more than hold their own against bigger and better-financed teams from more basketball-oriented areas.
The Hawks have survived by the determination of the longtime Moultrie internist whose passion for caring for his patients is matched by his love of the game he grew up playing in Illinois.
And next month, Berl will be honored by his community when he is inducted into the Colquitt County Sports Hall of Fame at its annual banquet on Nov. 1. He also will be recognized, along with the other members of the Class 2012, on the turf at Tom White Field at Mack Tharpe Stadium before the following night’s football game between the Colquitt and Coffee.
Moving to Moultrie in 1984 to establish his practice, Berl went through some culture shock.
Colquitt County was — and is — football country. Basketball, Berl’s passion, was not taken with the kind of seriousness he was accustomed to growing up in Paris, Ill.
Berl played high school basketball there and remembers fans sitting in the aisles at games.
“Every game was a sellout,” he said.
And players took the game seriously.
“We played every day,” he said, adding that players often had a key to the gymnasium and it wasn’t uncommon to play at midnight, sleep in the gym and get up the next morning and play some more.
“That’s just what we did,” he said.
Not long after moving to Moultrie, he got to the old gymnasium behind the Colquitt County Arts Center and encouraged youngsters to show up.
His rule was there was always practice, with emphasis on fundamentals, before games were played.
Berl soon was learning about how to compete in AAU events and then put together his first team.
That team included a number of players from out of town and Berl took it to Nationals, confounding opponents with its deliberate style of play.
Of that first group of 11 players that Berl put together, 10 eventually earned college scholarships.
As the Georgia Hawks program grew, Berl insisted on a code of conduct that his players had to adhere to. He came up with a contract that both the players and their parents agreed to.
It has worked for nearly two decades.
The Hawks have been able to attend tournaments, which often cost as much as $800 to enter, stay at hotels and eat on the road primarily through the help of local donors.
“I’ve received incredible support from the community,” he said.
As the economy worsened in recent years, donations dropped off. Berl has spent untold amounts of his own money to make sure his players were able to play top competition and be seen by recruiters.
But it has been a labor of love.
And what he especially enjoys is watching young players improve.
“I think my strong suit is practice coaching,” he says. “I know game strategy, but that’s not why I’m in it.
“I’m in my element coaching practice and watching the kids get better.”
And have they ever.
Among the former Hawks who have gone on to play collegiately are Colquitt County’s John Michael Hall, who played at Drake; Chris Daniels of Monroe who played at Georgia and went on to play professionally in Europe; Kyle Davis from Early County, who played at Auburn; Crisp County’s Lewis Clinch, who played at Georgia Tech; Ware County’s Fred Gibson who played football and basketball at Georgia; Charles Jackson of Tri-County who played at Illinois; and Leonard Pope, who played football at Georgia and in the NFL.
Four other Packer/Hawks — Berl’s son Scott, Jamey Richardson, Kevin Daniels and Sebastian Sachse — all went on to earn college scholarships to play basketball.
There are 17 former Berl players now playing at the collegiate level at Florida, Georgia Tech, UNC-Greensboro, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Morehead State, South Alabama, Albany State, Wichita State and Jacksonville State.
Four former Hawks have played professionally overseas.
No Hawks have played in the NBA yet, although former Coffee High star and current UNC-Greensboro guard Trevis Simpson might have a chance.
Among the performers for the Hawks over the years have been all three of Berl’s sons, Scott, Jason and Brian.
Several years ago he took a respite from the Hawks and coached an Elite team in Atlanta.
A this year, the thought he might take a break from coaching altogether.
But then he received a call from Moultrie’s Roscoe Singletary, who said he and Carlos “Butterbean” Johnson wanted to form a couple of team of young players.
Berl agreed to help and before long, he was back on the boards, bringing together the two teams every other Saturday for off-season practices.
And what Berl likes about this group is that it has a number of young — and promising — Moultrie players.
Among the seventh-graders are Cameron Singletary, J.J. Peterson, JaQuan Willis, Jarvis Christopher and Kaleb Dawson.
Tory Ponder, DaNas Andrews and Tyrese King are developing as eighth-grade players.
And as if running a thriving internal medicine practice and teaching youngsters how to play basketball were not enough, Berl has for the past 10 years been involved in mission work, mostly in Honduras.
He has traveled to Honduras 23 times, primarily as part of a medical team.
It was his mission work that earned him the first Walter E. Harrison Jr. Humanitarian Award, presented by the Colquitt Regional Medial Foundation in February.
Harrison started the mission effort to Honduras and asked Berl to join.
When Harrison could no longer take part, Berl took an active role.
He also has been the recipient of the Moultrie YMCA’s Distinguished Program Service Award and has been named a CRMC Champion for his contributions to the hospital and to the community.
Berl also is preparing to become a first responder for national disasters through the Mission for the World.
And he volunteers his medical expertise eight hours a week at a clinic in Valdosta.
So with all he has on his plate, it is not surprising he says, “I couldn’t do it without Linda.”
Wife Linda Berl has been long involved in community events as well, and joined her husband in carrying the Olympic Torch through Moultrie in 1996.
She also has coached tennis at Colquitt County High and is actively involved in the mission trips to Honduras.
Linda has been more than tolerant of his work with Hawks, with good reason.
“She knows it was a way for me to spend time with my sons,” he said.
And he says when he gets together with his boys, the talk often gets around to Hawks basketball.
Scott Berl, the oldest of the former Packers and Hawks, is radiology resident at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. He and wife Stephanie have a 2-year-old son Isaac.
Jason is a second-year student at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Fla. He and his wife have a 10-month-old son Bryce.
Youngest son Brian is a senior at the University of Georgia studying physical therapy.