Bernstein Holds Strong Howell Roots While Branching Out Beyond Sports
Former Rebel gymnast makes most of opportunities
Since she graduated from Howell High School in 1988 Bonnie Bernstein has travelled all over the country and all over the world covering some of the biggest stories in sports.
No matter where she has gone, she has never forgotten where she came from. Having gone from they gymnastic mats of the high school to being inducted into the school's hall of fame, Howell is never far from her mind. "The very root of who I am is still in that town," she said.
Whether it was her first professional assignments in Delaware or Nevada or working with ESPN in Bristol, CT. Bernstein said where she came from is as much of a piece of her as where she has gone. "I think the small town roots are a blessing," she said. "I've never forgotten where I came from."
Life in Howell
Where she came from included starting school at Newbury before heading to Land O'Pines in seventh grade before joining the Rebels. Bernstein said all through her school career she surrounded herself with people who helped each other to succeed in whatever they did. "My circle of friends, we were pretty diverse in our interests," she said.
Whether they were competing in one of several sports or in the band or choir Bernstein said they were always doing something. "We were a pretty well rounded bunch," she said. "It encouraged us all to raise our game in every aspect of athletics and academics."
That encouragement also brought out the best in each of them, which she said made the class of 1988 a special group to be a part of. "We really enjoyed pushing each other in an encouraging way to help each other be the best that we could be," she said.
In addition to gymnastics Bernstein said she was also involved in a wide variety of other activities including track, the Latin club and serving as the vice president of her class. "It was a situation where sometimes I look back at it now and think maybe I'm so savvy in time management because I really didn't have a choice," she said. "I had to find a way to make time for everything and being mediocre at anything was just never an option."
Having to choose between sports and other extra curricular’s and winding up with Division I gymnastics actually made her schedule a little more open at the college level. "I realized when I got to college something had to give," she said.
Life Outside of Howell
Her love of gymnastics started when she was seven-years-old and carried her all the way through the local schools to the University of Maryland where she joined the Terrapin squad there.
Bernstein's time as a Terp also brought its own challenges on and off the mat. In addition to being a four time Academic All American Bernstein also had to deal with her share of injuries. In addition to blowing out her knee her first meet freshman year she also needed arthroscopic knee surgery junior and senior year.
After the first operation she said her doctor warned she might never be able to compete again. That, she said only made her work on her rehab that much more to make sure she could compete again and that was exactly what she did. She also used that as motivation beyond gymnastics. "It's a tough business gender not withstanding," she said of sports broadcasting. "A lot of resolve and stick-to-itive-ness has really helped me in my business."
College Park, she said, provided everything she was looking for in a school. "I was trying to find a school that really had good gymnastics with really good journalism," she said.
As her time at Maryland wound down Bernstein said she started setting her sites on loftier goals. While watching ESPN one day Bernstein said she saw a female sportscaster and knew what she wanted to do. "I remember watching her and thinking I can do this," she said. With that in mind she set the goal of joining the network by the time she was 28 and getting on a major network by the time she was 32.
After stops in places like Reno and Maryland and Delaware Bernstein reached her goals ahead of schedule and landed at the sports channel when she was 24 and was then hired by CBS when she was 28. "So much of your ability to succeed in this business has to do with self confidence and really truly believing that what you're gunning for is realistic no matter what the outside world is telling you," she said.
As she got more exposure and more experience Bernstein gained a reputation as one of the top football reporters in a business mostly dominated by men. Gaining that experience was not always easy "There's still lots of people with the notion that women shouldn't cover football because they don't play it," she said.
She may not have put on a helmet and pads but Bernstein said what set her apart from her counterparts was her commitment to absorb as much information about the sport as possible. Whether that came from countless hours of watching film or talking to the players, coaches or fellow broadcasters she said she was a sponge for information. "That's what I loved so much about what I did when I was sideline reporting," she said. "Every week I would come out of the game knowing more than I did going in."
Because of that she said she was able to quiet at least many of her detractors. 'If you came up through the ranks like I did and was fortunate enough to be exposed to enough inside information as I was I think you would probably change your tune," she said.
Life Beyond Sports
In recent years she has been able to come out from behind the microphone and work on other issues that she holds near and dear to her heart. That includes producing her first documentary and other philanthropic efforts.
One of the most important to her involves preventing a condition known as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). Having survived blood clots that could have been potentially fatal, Bernstein said a lot of her efforts go into being a Co-National Spokesperson for the Coalition to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis. "If I was fortunate enough to get a second chance I figured I should do something with it," she said.
She said DVT is the number one cause of preventable deaths in hospitals. March is also DVT Awareness Month. "The general rule is if you have three or more risk factors check with your doctors," she said. "if you can get to the doctor early enough you don't have to go through the tough times that I did." More information on DVT can be found here.
Another cause Bernstein works passionately to advocate for is childhood obesity. She serves as an ambassador for a group called ING KiDS Rock.
In addition to these other efforts Bernstein said she still works for ESPN on independent projects but is glad to be able to extend her reach beyond radio and television. "I'm just trying to take all the skills I've acquired and branching out into other interesting projects," she said.
Having the ability to work with these groups and others has been very rewarding for Bernstein. "I've come to a point for me where I've been to the top of the mountain and its been wonderful and rewarding and I wouldn't trade it for a single second," she said. "Now I want to wake up every day with people who are likeminded and committed to the collaborative process. I'm searching out topics and projects that are interesting to me."
Whether it is covering the Final Four or working on keeping children healthy she said they all come together in different ways. "I'm a sponge," she said. "I get to ask questions for a living and I'm finally in a position of strength that I can seek out the stories I want to tell. If I feel like it's interesting and I want to tell that story hopefully the viewer will feel the same way."
Now that she has accomplished so much in broadcasting Bernstein said she has loftier goals. "Philanthropy has become a really big piece of my life," she said. "One thing I've always said is missing is the give back factor."
For as much fun as she has covering sports Bernstein said she knows there is more she can do to help others. "I'm trying to find the creative balance between doing the work that I love to do and doing the work philanthropically that gives me the fulfillment I need when I go to bed at night."
When she is home relaxing in New York Bernstein said one of her favorite things to do is play the piano. "I started writing music when I was a kid," she said. Having a digital piano, Bernstein can create a different kind of score than she did in the sports world. "One of these days I'm going to have a completely different career in music. Living right across the street from Julliard, she said she has all the inspiration and motivation to pursue those dreams as well.
Keeping Her Roots
No matter what she is working on, Bernstein said New Jersey is at the heart of her efforts. She also said she is proud to be from the garden state "in this day and age where all the television shows about New Jersey portray us in less than a flattering light," she said.
She has also taken to her Facebook account to defend her home state and talk about issues relating to new Jersey. "As somebody from New Jersey, if you're not (from here) you don't understand," she said.
Even though she now lives on the other side of the Hudson River she said, "There's still a lot of Jersey in me." Where she comes from is a definite point of pride for Bernstein. She said there are misconceptions about the New Jersey Turnpike and the pollution from the well-known smoke stacks along the roadway are not the New Jersey she knows.
And being from the Jersey Shore area she said it it much more than what the popular shows make it out to be. "Not to say it doesn't exist, but it's one very small piece," she said.
In the end Bernstein said all roads lead back to New Jersey and Howell in particular. This past summer while driving the back roads to visit her parents she said she happened across her alma mater on graduation day. "I had my phone with me and just started taking pictures," she said. "Every time I drive past that building I realize how much Howell is a part of me."
To learn more about what Bernstein does on a daily basis check out her website.