Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Burleson ends 36-year baseball career at Kansas City Kansas Community College

The winningest coach in Kansas City Kansas Community College history is stepping down.

Steve Burleson will end a 36-year career as head baseball mentor with his retirement Friday, July 31. Only the second coach in the Jayhawk East Conference to win 1,000 games, Burleson will retire with a record of 1,136 wins, 697 losses and a .614 winning percentage.

“I’m proud that I was involved in that many college games,” said Burleson, who will turn 65 next April.

Burleson was the first active coach inducted into the KCKCC Sports Hall of Fame in 2012 and KCKCC Athletic Director Tony Tompkins expects more honors to come.

“I have no doubt he will be in the NJCAA Hall of Fame in the future,” said Tompkins. “It is very impressive to have a head coach stay at one institution and be so successful for more than 35 years. Coach Burleson has built and maintained a strong baseball program both academically and athletically and we will do our best to continue to build upon the foundation he has built and wish him the best in all of his future endeavors.”

Other than his continued support of the Blue Devil baseball program, Burleson said he has no immediate plans.

“Honestly, I have not thought about it,” he said. “I’ve always felt I needed to put all my energy into what I was doing at that time. I do know I want to spend more time with my grandson and there’s another grandchild coming in December and I’m looking forward to that. ”

In his 36 seasons, Burleson’s teams won seven Jayhawk championships and he’s been Coach of the Year four times. From 1985-87, the Blue Devils won three straight Region VI championships and were ranked 10th, 16th and 17th nationally. A graduate of William Jewell College where he was a multi-sport standout, he coached at Washington High School before coming to KCKCC.

Burleson’s contributions, however, extend far beyond wins and losses. He wrote the constitution for the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference (KJCCC); served as chairman of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Hall of Fame, Baseball Hospitality and International Competition committees; and been vice-president of the NJCAA Baseball Association.

In 1987, he coached the North team to the gold medal in the U.S. Olympic Festival and in 1991, was the head coach of an NJCAA All-Star team which finished fourth in the Tournament of Americas in Cuba.

Perhaps the most telling statistic is Burleson’s record of having 88 percent of the players he’s coached receive scholarships to continue their education.

“I read somewhere that 84 percent of the people hate their jobs. I loved this job. I got to work with 30-45 people of my choosing every year and assistant coaches who were absolutely incredible at their jobs and very, very special human beings.

“And ultimately I got to work at a college that has sent me all over the world to learn the game from the best people in the game and an outstanding faculty to keep kids connected academically. The two most important things I look at on a college campus are the students and the faculty. Everything should revolve around them and how we impact between students and faculty.”

Burleson’s best two players, David Segui and Kevin Young, played a combined 27 years in the major leagues – Segui 15 years with the Orioles, Mets, Expos and Mariners; Young 12 years with the Pirates and Royals. Charter members of the KCKCC Sports Hall of Fame, both are adamant that Steve Burleson was far and away the most influential person in their baseball careers.

“His knowledge is second to none,” says Segui, who had a .291 career batting average. “When it came to teaching, it was the best I’ve ever had. I was never more prepared for a season at any level than I was for the two seasons playing for Coach Burleson. His security blanket was preparation – fundamentals had to be established and physically doing it full speed over and over until it became second nature. He could walk into professional baseball and do a great job. Pro baseball actually needs guys like him, especially at the lower level where kids are never taught the fundamental things they need to learn about the game.”

A walk-on when he failed to be recruited out of high school, Young was suspended during Christmas break because of basically a lack of effort. “It was the best thing that could happen. I worked my butt off and showed I could play,” said Young, who hit .441 as a freshman and a KJCCC record .477 as a sophomore to earn a scholarship to Southern Mississippi.

“I don’t think I’d have reached my full potential if I hadn’t been challenged by Coach Burleson,” added Young. “He could not do it for me but he could bring it out of me. He sees more than the game of baseball. He sees players as individuals and knows how to motivate them from both the team and individual level. He surrounds himself with positive people and that’s the way he deals with people, a characteristic I can say was a benefit to my whole life. Coach Burleson and my high school coach, Rich Piper, both really impacted my growth and understanding of the game and what I could be as a player.”

Burleson is the fourth Blue Devil baseball coach. Dr. David Klein initiated the program in the spring of 1975 and took the team to the NJCAA World Series in 1976. He stepped down as head coach following the 1978 season.

His assistant, Mike Haen, was elevated to head coach only to be killed in the line of duty as a reserve police officer.

Ken Gonzales coached the 1978-79 season before leaving to become a scout with the Kansas City Royals before Burleson was named to the position in the fall of 1979.