Ask a Hamilton West football or baseball supporter who Earl Bogart is, and you might get a quizzical look in return. But ask the same person if they know Bogie, and the response is sometimes a roll of the eyes, but usually a smile and an appreciative, “Oh yeah: Bogie!”
The 86-year-old is indeed more well known by one name than two, and is about as famous as the Hornet athletes he has supported since the early 1950s.
And he’s a character, plain and simple.
“I think everybody who grew up in Hamilton knows Bogie,” current Hornets head football coach Mike Papero said. “I first knew him when I was about five years old. I played for Hamilton Little Lads baseball, and everybody over there knew about him. His grandson played at West when I was younger, so I’ve known him for about 30 years now.”
Three decades is a drop in the bucket compared to how long some Hornet coaches and players have known Bogart.
“I loved the guy,” said John Berei, who was Hamilton’s head football coach from 1984-89 and an assistant several years before that. “He was like a Hamilton West Hornets Super Fan. At every single game, he was a fixture. I can’t believe he’s still going to the games.”
Less than a week after making those comments, Berei saw Bogart for the first time in 20 years at the Oct. 19 Hamilton-Nottingham game.
“He is 86 years old; unbelievable,” Berei said. “He looks great. I talked to him for about 20 minutes going over the old times.”
And then there is Joe Ryan, a football assistant under Bill McEvoy and Berei from 1971-84, who still runs the clock at basketball games.
“I liked Bogie very much,” Ryan said. “He cared very much about the kids who were playing on the teams, and it appeared to me that the kids liked him very much and listened to some of his suggestions. He not only followed the players at Hamilton, but I think that he followed them in the local recreation leagues like legion baseball, Babe Ruth baseball, recreation football and local basketball leagues. I think he was going to athletic events every day, all year long.”
Bogie did attend such events, but football and baseball are his two favorites since he played both at West before being called into active duty for the Air Force during the Korean War in 1951. Once he got out of the service, he took a job with General Motors and became a fixture on the West gridiron and baseball diamond.
As fondly as coaches and players remember Bogie, he remembers them.
“I’ve seen them all,” he said. “I know half the township and three-quarters of the ball players in the township. I didn’t just go to Hamilton games, I went to a lotta ball games.”
And he was easily recognized, wearing a sweat suit and gold chain while lighting up a victory cigar after a victory (he quit smoking five years ago). His presence was especially prevalent at the Thanksgiving football game between Steinert and Hamilton. Since the series started in 1959, the only game Bogie missed was the Hornets 31-7 victory after he suffered a heart attack in 1981.
After the win, McEvoy and the team presented him with an autographed football.
“That made me feel great,” Bogie said. “It shows somebody you know cares about you.”
The two teams will show just how much Bogart means to them this year, when he will perform the honorary coin flip prior to the Thanksgiving game. His reply to the honor was a simple, “That’ll be good.”
Berei’s reaction was a bit stronger.
“That is just awesome,” he said.
Bogie does not make as many games as he once did. He tries to attend all the home football games as well as the ones at Nottingham and Steinert. But during his heyday he was a fixture at home and on the road.
It all started when he worked the chain game for both Hamilton West games and Grice Junior High, which was the feeder system for some powerhouse Hornet teams. He did that for over 30 years and when that was over, he continued to attend games. Often times, right on the field.
“(Athletic Director John) Costantino keeps the sidelines cleared pretty good,” Papero said. “But when I played for West in the late 90s, early 2000s, you’d see some coaches, you’d see a few media people and all of a sudden you’d see Bogie standing there. You’re like, ‘How the hell did he get on the field?’ But he hasn’t been on here yet. If we keep winning, maybe he’ll grace us with his presence on the sidelines.”
There are a few coaches who wouldn’t be too thrilled about that since Bogie was never shy about stating his point of view. Papero, however, welcomes it.
“Good or bad, he’ll give you his opinion,” the coach said. “I’ll take someone who’s honest and genuine over the opposite any day. He’s just a good, honest, genuine human being.”
Berei felt the same way.
“Bogie makes the game interesting,” he said. “I don’t know what the administrators thought about him, but we really enjoyed having the guy around.”
What’s amazing is that at his age, Bogart remembers names and games with an incredibly sharp mind. He still moves about nimbly and shows no signs of slowing down.
“I just keep active, do a lot of things,” he said. “After I had my heart attack, I called GM to ask when I was coming back to work, and the girl told me, ‘You’re not coming back.’ They thought I was done. Forty years later, I’m still here.”
He has watched two grandchildren excel for West. His granddaughter, Rebecca Freidman, was a softball standout and his grandson, Danny Kerlin, was a key member of Hamilton’s 1996 state powerhouse that went to the Central Jersey Group III finals and provided Bogie with his most memorable game.
“They played Neptune (in the playoff semifinals),” Bogie said. “They were rated number one in the state and sixth in the country, and we blew them out, 31-7.”
In recalling some of his favorite coaches, Bogart included football’s Keith Hartbauer, McEvoy and Dave Bryant, baseball’s Marty Flynn and basketball’s Charley Ross. He is quick to proudly display a picture of himself and Flynn that appeared in the paper praising Bogie as Hamilton’s No. 1 baseball fan.
He also likes Papero, who is doing well in his first year, saying, “I told Mike, ‘I was glad you got the job.’ He’s got a nice team, and he’s doing a nice job.”
In picking a favorite Thanksgiving game, Bogart says they all blur together, though he does remember his grandson’s team beating Steinert, 35-7, in 1996. As for Hornet football players he was most impressed with, he quickly pointed to running backs Bob Harris and Kevin Johnson and the ’96 quarterback, Greg Muckerson. Johnson went on to play in the NFL, and Harris is still going strong as an assistant at Nottingham.
“I remember once in a game at Notre Dame, there was a hole in the field, and Muckerson fell in the hole,” Bogart said. “He sunk right in there. And they grabbed him and ripped his shirt off trying to get him out of the hole.”
He has a bit more pleasant memory about Johnson.
“When he was still a little kid playing rec football,” Bogie said, “he told me, ‘You know, Mr. Bogart…’ and I said “Whadda ya want kid?’ He said ‘You know Mr. Bogart, when I become a pro I’m gonna buy my mom a house.’ And he bought her a house. He knew he was going, even back then.”
What Johnson, Harris, Muckerson and all the rest probably didn’t know back then was that Bogie would still be going strong to this day. He has loved the ride, but feels youth sports isn’t quite what it used to be.
“It’s a lot different,” he said. “Kids aren’t involved in it as much. They don’t care about it as much, I think. They’ve got more computers and all that stuff to play with. They’d rather do that than play ball. It’s hard to get kids to play ball today.”
But it’s not hard to get Bogie to come out and watch them play ball. And it never has been.