Western Wayne is struggling through another tough year on the Lackawanna League boys basketball scene.
The Wildcats have won just two games this winter heading into the final week of regular season action.
However, one of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary campaign has been the play of James Berger.
A senior power forward who can score in the paint and flex his muscles on the glass, Berger helps Western Wayne remain competitive in a brutal division.
"James shows a great deal of leadership both on and off the court," Coach Mike Nepa said.
"He's a very coachable young man. He sets a great example for the younger kids on the team and they all look up to him."
Berger enjoyed one of his best games of the season this week against longtime rival Wallenpaupack Area.
The Wildcats fought hard from opening tip to final buzzer before finally falling by a score of 68-57. Berger rattled the rim for 18 points in the loss and earned high praise from his mentor.
"James is our Mr. Hustle," said Coach Nepa. "He's a very tough kid who never gives up on a play. Every time James steps on the floor, he gives us one hundred percent."
Berger and his teammates were scheduled to close out their regular season slate Monday at Dunmore.
That contest is slated for a 7:15 p.m. opening tip.
Berger is a multi-sport standout who also starred for three years on Western Wayne's varsity gridiron.
He played several different positions on both sides of the ball. He also starred on special teams for Hall of Fame Coach Allen "Butch" Keller.
Page 2 of 3 - "James might have been the best kicker in the whole league," he said. "But, it hurt his knee to kick, so he didn't do much during his senior year."
The injury to which Coach Keller alludes was a genuinely scary one. Before summer practice began last year, a tumor was detected in Berger's knee.
James underwent surgery and the tumor (thankfully, benign) was successfully removed. Berger was back in time for his senior grid campaign, but kicking was ruled out.
Nevertheless, he still made his presence felt on offense and defense.
"James did everything we asked him to do and never complained," Coach Keller said. "He's a very smart kid who could play just about every position on the field."
As a junior, Berger was named to the First Team LFC All Stars as a receiver. He produced eye-popping numbers despite facing defenses geared specifically to contain him.
"Hey, there was a time about halfway through the season that James was averaging about 40 yards a catch," Coach Keller said. "Nobody could stop him on the waggle. He just made a killing on that play."
Back on the Court
Berger's 6'2" frame also stands him in good stead on the basketball court.
In Tuesday's game versus Paupack, he powered his way to 18 points on the strength of five field goals and a 6-for-9 stint at the charity stripe.
"The great thing is that he's also one of the best defenders in the league," Coach Nepa said. "We put him on the other team's best player just about every night and he always does a good job."
Berger limited JC Show of Abington Heights to only six points in an entire half. He also held Honesdale's Kevin Miller to one point over the course of two periods.
Page 3 of 3 - "Any coach would be thrilled to work with a kid like James," Nepa said. "He will do anything at all to help his team and that's kind of a rare quality these days."
James is the son of Paul & Angela Berger, Maplewood. He has been accepted to Wilkes University where he hopes to play football and study engineering.