Sal Marchese knew exactly who he wanted to be when he graduated from Delsea Regional High School in 1985.
Oberg, the legendary football coach and athletic director of the Crusaders, was synonymous with Franklinville and Elk Township. He set the South Jersey record for coaching wins, won five NJSIAA Sectional Championships, and numerous other titles as well.
Marchese, who grew up next to Oberg, and was Delsea’s water boy and statistician before becoming a starting quarterback and center linebacker, wanted to follow in Oberg’s footsteps as Delsea’s football coach. But it wasn’t just about football. It was about the impact Oberg had on him and on the community.
“He was so much more than just a legendary football manager,” Marchese said. “He was a leader, a father figure. He was a mentor to thousands of kids in Franklin Township, the Elk communities here. … That’s what I took away from him. The Xs and the O’s and all that kind of stuff I grew up his next door neighbor I was at his house every day He was like a second dad to me All the Xs and O’s it was very minor of what ‘he taught me.
Delsea announced Wednesday morning on Twitter that Oberg had passed away. He was 88 years old.
“Obie was a special guy, a special coach,” said 1988 graduate Rob Briles, who played under Oberg and is the school’s longtime women’s basketball coach. “He always wanted to do what he could. You never wanted to let him down. You wanted to do what you could to help him.
Oberg, who was the school’s football coach and athletic director when it opened in 1960, retired from the gridiron in 1993. He went 230-67-16 and won NJSIAA crowns in 1976, 1979 , 1982, 1984 and 1986. He also won three other group titles before that. He left his position as sports director in 1998.
“When you say Delsea, whether it’s the 60s, 70s or 2000s, there are certain images that come to mind, people come to mind, and obviously Obie was a big factor in that.” said former wrestling coach Steve Iles, who replaced Oberg as athletic director. “It was kind of a challenge. I didn’t want to disappoint him, disappoint the community.
This is the standard Oberg set. Marchese saw it with his own eyes.
Marchese had too many stories to tell because Oberg’s impact on him and the community was simply too great to measure.
“I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I was so comfortable coming here and he was one of the big reasons why,” said Marchese, who is the only other football manager Delsea has ever had. “I knew what kind of person he was. … I could go to him for anything, help on the pitch, help with my emotions, the stress of work. It was like having another dad to lean on. when things got tough, when things were good. It didn’t matter. He was always there. We had this kind of relationship since I was 1 year old.
Oberg also left his mark on countless others, and he garnered immense respect for it.
“Joe Paterno came in (at school) and they (were talking),” Briles said. “People knew Obie. … It was something to say for Obie and what he’s done for our school and what he’s done for this town.
“You had a bunch of old school people with Obie,” Briles continued. “Walt Serad the baseball coach, Sal’s dad with wrestling and as an assistant football coach and in the weight room, my dad with basketball, John Roberts with wrestling and football, Harry Ashenfelter with track, Rick Schappell, he was also one of Obie’s assistants and a longtime track coach, Jim Rafferty did it all, Dave Bradley, they made Delsea what it has become. … Obie was the boss of it all, it was Obie’s show and everyone was there and Obie was the heart of the place, the heart of the town.
Oberg’s fingerprints remain on the football program as the Crusaders still lead his wing-T attack.
“It really hasn’t (changed),” said Marchese, who has guided the Crusaders to nine NJSIAA titles since taking over from Oberg. “We changed a few years, we did things that weren’t good for a few years, but even when we did he supported us. He was not authoritarian. Being a leader for the kids and trying to be a mentor and a leader and a father figure, those are the main things that I kind of got from being around him for so long.
Delsea paid tribute to Oberg last year when they beat Steinert on October 30. Dozens of former students returned to pay their respects.
“He was just awesome,” Briles said. “He was great with people, he was great with everyone. He was just a nice guy who cared about school. Not just the football team, all the kids here. All people here.
Josh Friedman has produced award-winning South Jersey sports coverage for the Courier Post, Daily Journal and Burlington County Times for over a decade. If you have or know of an interesting story to tell, hit us up on Twitter at @JFriedman57 or email [email protected] You can also contact him at 856-486-2431. Help support local journalism with a subscription.