In 33 years of coaching baseball at Kansas City Kansas Community College, Steve Burleson has won a lot of games – 1,027 to be exact and far more than enough to earn Burleson induction into the Kansas City Kansas Community College Sports Hall of Fame,
But all pale when it comes to calls like he received last week from one of his former players. “It was from a guy who had been through a lot of different professions who called to tell me he had just passed the bar exam in Alabama,” said Burleson.
“There are always going to be good players and great games but the true highlights are those kinds of things where guys have got things worked out in their lives and want to call and tell me that in some indirect fashion my influence had something to do with that.
“When the games are over, the people still remain and those relationships are clearly the most important, especially those when someone has worked harder or who did not have as much talent but found a way to succeed. Not only will they do that in baseball but in the classroom and down the road in their family life.”
Burleson will be joined by basketball All-American Stephanie Brown, Olympian Dinsdale Morgan and the 1976 Blue Devil baseball team that gained the NJCAA World Series in Hall of Fame induction ceremonies Saturday, Feb. 23, The induction will be preceded by a KCKCC-Hutchinson doubleheader opening the new baseball complex at 1 p.m. and will come between games of a basketball doubleheader against Labette starting at 6 p.m.
“Initially, one of surprise,” said Burleson of his selection. “When you think of all the incredible athletes we’ve had at this college such as this class – an Olympian, the leading scorer and rebounder in the conference the same year and the baseball team with arguably the greatest all-around talent of any baseball team, I’m extremely humbled.”
In his 34th year at the KCKCC helm, Burleson’s teams have won seven Jayhawk championships and he’s been Coach of the Year at least four times. From 1985-87, the Blue Devils won three straight Region VI championships and were ranked 10th, 16th and 17th nationally. One of only three coaches in the Jayhawk Conference to win 1,000 games, Burleson has a 1,027-627 record and .610 winning percentage..
Buleson’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 and treasurer 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 love this job. I get to work with 25-35 people of my choosing and have three assistant coaches (Matt Goldbeck, Damian Stambersky and Bill Sharp) who are absolutely incredible at their jobs and very, very special human beings.
“And ultimately I get 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 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,” said 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.”