I’m a firm believer that youth sports are about a lot more than what happens on the field or the court. They are a great way to teach our kids lessons which can last their entire lives. Things like working hard, learning to lead, and being accountable for your actions. Sure there are other ways to get these concepts across to your children, but sometimes you need a role model outside of your own house to help. Mike Burnett, the head football coach at Tuscarora High School in Leesburg, is one of those types of people. I’ve never met him, but I can tell by the way his players speak he has developed a culture few young athletes get to experience.
If you haven’t been following along, the Huskies finished their season last Saturday with a 22-19 loss in the 5A State Championship game. It was their only defeat of the season but certainly not their biggest loss. Last July the team’s defensive coordinator Adam Fortune suddenly passed away. Not only was Coach Fortune the teams emotional leader, he was Coach Burnett’s best friend. They dedicated the season to his memory and had a near story book run, finishing an impressive 14-1. Although the loss in the championship game stings, that won’t be what these coaches and player remember.
“A game and a championship is a number on a scoreboard, and life is so much more than that,” Burnett said. “We’ve learned that this year. As bad as it hurts today, I got a call on July 7 that put things in perspective in terms of pain and disappointment and hurt, and this one doesn’t come close. This is the best team I’ve ever been a part of,” he added. “I love these kids. Things didn’t go our way today, but that’s why it’s a game. Nothing is proven by a score. Things are proven by how you act and behave, and they’ve been outstanding. We had some tough breaks today, but you worry about how they handle it. At the end of the day, my job is to build young men. I look at what happened out there today, and I feel I’ve done a pretty darn good job.”
I’ve been lucky enough to have been a part of a special team like that. We didn’t have the tragedy these young men experienced, but the bonds that are created last a lifetime. Heather and I ran into one of the players from that team this past summer while we were out to lunch at Coach’s Corner in Purcellville. For various reasons our paths had not crossed in 8 years and I didn’t recognize him. He happened to be our server and introduced himself with “Hey Coach Elias, it’s Ryan from the Huskies”. Eight years, and here he still thought of me as Coach Elias.
You never know when you are going to get the opportunity to impact young people. The parents of the Tuscarora football team are lucky to have a man like Coach Burnett at the helm, their sons will be better men for it. Congratulations on a great season, I’m sure Coach Fortune would be proud.
P.S. If you’d like to read a first hand account of the Huskies season, check out this article from Andy Hayes on Gameday Magazine.