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Marilyn Berto, widow of legendary football coach Tony Berto, remains link to Delphi glory

JCOnline.com (Lafayette) logo JCOnline.com (Lafayette) 10/22/2020 Sam King, Lafayette Journal & Courier
a group of people standing in the grass: Marilyn Berto reacts as Delphi players greet her before their football game against Clinton Prairie, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020 in Delphi. Berto's late husband, Tony Berto, served as the high school's football coach for over 30 years. © Nikos Frazier | Journal & Courier Marilyn Berto reacts as Delphi players greet her before their football game against Clinton Prairie, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020 in Delphi. Berto's late husband, Tony Berto, served as the high school's football coach for over 30 years.

DELPHI — From the back patio of her home, Marilyn Berto still gets her fill of Delphi Oracles football.

Though a storage shed now stands in the path of being able to view the full field that bears her late husband's last name, there's a partial view of Berto Field.

The 96-year-old wife of legendary Delphi football coach Tony Berto knows when it's a good night for the Oracles, though.

Though the public address announcer's voice is faint in her back yard, the cannon shot off after each touchdown lets her know if things are going well.

In recent years, that cannon has gotten a workout thanks to some prolific Oracle offenses.

"When I hear that, I say, 'Oh, we must be doing OK,' " Marilyn said.

This back porch next door to Delphi Elementary School on Vine Street used to host some of the best post game celebrations and there were plenty in Tony Berto's 33 seasons as head varsity football coach from 1952-84.

Delphi had three consecutive undefeated seasons and won 33 games in a row from 1964-67.

Those are stories still told today in the Delphi community and by those who lived them firsthand anytime the group gets together.

"That's what is amazing because that was a long time," Marilyn said. "People would hang over the fence who couldn't get seats. A lot of the guys, especially, liked to hang on the fence and watch it close."

Tony Berto passed away in 2014. It just so happened to be approaching the 50-year anniversary of his first of three consecutive undefeated teams.

Most of the players from that 1964 roster returned and shared tales of the past and those stories still surface almost every year about this time, with the sectional tournament beginning Friday night.

Indiana did not have a state football tournament back then so despite being ranked in a time where schools weren't grouped into classifications, no one will ever know for sure how the Oracles stacked up.

a bunch of items that are on display: Former Delphi coach Tony Berto kept memorabilia displayed from his coaching career in his home. © Sam King Former Delphi coach Tony Berto kept memorabilia displayed from his coaching career in his home.

But you better believe they would have held their own because Tony Berto was not only a masterful football coach, he was an even better psychologist and motivator that got the most out of his team.

Despite his Delphi record 203 victories, Indiana Football Hall of Fame induction and countless other honors, those who knew or played for coach Berto remember him more for what he meant outside of the gridiron.

"Things that made us all successful in our careers and in life go back to things that were taught to us by our moms and dad, but were reinforced by an individual outside the family and for me and a lot of my friends back then, it was coach Berto," said Tom Freeman, who was a member of Delphi's undefeated 1964 team before a successful career as a two-way player at Wabash College. "I became president of a bank and I had Illinois, Indiana and eastern Kentucky as my three-state area and I was headquartered in Indianapolis. To this day, I don't think I would have been as successful as I was if I didn't have him as a high school coach and learned a lot of lessons from him."

And perhaps more importantly, the woman behind the man.

When Delphi administration was approached about honoring Marilyn Berto last month at its Homecoming football game, the decision was a no brainer.

She was shuttled around the stadium in a golf cart as her contributions behind the scenes were announced to Oracle football fans. The team captains approached Marilyn to give thanks and the athletic department presented with a black blanket emblazoned with a gold letter 'D' that much resembles a varsity letter jacket.

It is proudly displayed in a den inside her home that is a shrine full of some of the greatest stories from Delphi's glory days.

Trophies. Scrap books. Game balls. Photos. 

It's essentially a Delphi football museum, while also an homage to his playing career as a halfback at Purdue University

And, as Marliyn points out, there's a lot more stored in the garage with no place to be displayed.

Berto is remembered for his intensity and dedication to perfection. 

"I was really mesmerized more with Tony and details and thought process of his brain," said Randy German, who played on Delphi's 1977 sectional championship team and would later succeed Berto as head coach in 1985.

text: A football displaying scores from Delphi's 1977 sectional championship team is surrounded by numerous honors awarded to former Delphi coach Tony Berto. © Sam King A football displaying scores from Delphi's 1977 sectional championship team is surrounded by numerous honors awarded to former Delphi coach Tony Berto.

What sometimes is lost in history was raising four daughters and the reliance on Marilyn to handle much of those duties during football season.

"She always put the ladies at ease," Freeman said. "When I think of Marilyn, I think of beauty and graciousness. She was so gracious to everybody. Successful people a lot of times are wound pretty tight. She, I think, at times grounded him.

"Coach was very intense and Marilyn was the force that grounded him at times."

Terrie Berto and her twin sister Cherie would set up a lemonade stand or a table to serve water to the players at practice.

It was their introduction to dad at work.

At home, they had Marilyn, who was a motherly figure to more than just her own children. 

Each night, there'd be two dinners. One for Terrie Cherie and sisters, Kim and Michele and a second for Tony Berto, who'd arrive after dark when practice and game preparation had ended. 

Knowing the sacrifices and time commitment of coaching — Tony Berto also coached basketball, baseball, track and golf through the years — Marilyn also embraced the wives of assistant coaches. 

They became their own community within the community.

"Any of us who were wives of coaches, we know the time it takes for a coach to coach football, especially a head coach," said Jane Miller, whose late husband Mike VanSickle played on Delphi's 1964 team and later returned to coach alongside Tony Berto. "Of course, as assistant coaches, Mike and the assistant coaches did a lot of scouting. It was pretty much football 24/7. But we know the women behind the coaches are very important people.

"The husbands can feel comfortable spending their time coaching knowing everything is taken care of at home. Marilyn was the epitome of that."

Marilyn Berto, who met Tony when he got out of World War II service and began coaching in Ostego, Michigan, remains a staple in some of the most memorable moments in Delphi.

Her husband received much of the acknowledgement, but she had a pretty big hand in Delphi's success, too.

"Little does she know the impact she left on people, especially for those of us who were involved in football," Miller said. "She showed us the way."

Sam King covers high school sports for the Journal & Courier. Email him at sking@jconline.com and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @samueltking.

a couple of people that are talking to each other: Delphi athletic director Kevin Sims hands Marilyn Berto a Delphi blanket as the school honors her before a football game, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020 in Delphi. Berto's late husband, Tony Berto, served as the high school's football coach for over 30 years. © Nikos Frazier | Journal & Courier Delphi athletic director Kevin Sims hands Marilyn Berto a Delphi blanket as the school honors her before a football game, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020 in Delphi. Berto's late husband, Tony Berto, served as the high school's football coach for over 30 years.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: Marilyn Berto, widow of legendary football coach Tony Berto, remains link to Delphi glory

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