Steve Burleson proud to join HOF club
As Steve Burleson tells it, there have been a handful of times being an English major has paid off.
The first came when he was a 27-year-old teacher and was roommates with the nephew of the college president at Kansas City Kansas Community College.
The school was looking for a baseball coach and the president’s nephew was an English major. There was a connection there, despite Burleson saying he was “grossly underqualified for the job.”
Another time his major made a difference happened years later. When the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference was formed from an already existing conference, Burleson penned the new conference’s constitution. It’s still in effect today.
Those moments have stuck with Burleson, 65, who retired after 36 seasons at KCKCC last summer. He’ll be inducted into the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame this year.
Burleson chaired the NJCAA Coaches Association Hall of Fame for several years, giving him a unique perspective on the honor.
Burleson looks up to longtime Ranger Junior College and Tarleton State University coach Jack Allen and former Panola College and Howard College coach Bill Griffin, both in the Hall of Fame.
“When you see coaches like Jack Allen and Bill Griffin go in, those are the kind of guys who could be in any Hall of Fame anywhere,” Burleson said. “To be mentioned in the same subgroup as them is an incredible honor.”
Burleson posted a 1,136-697 record in his 36 seasons coaching the Blue Devils, becoming one of two Jayhawk Conference coaches to win at least 1,000 games. He grew up in St. Louis and attended William Jewell College in Missouri, where he played baseball, football and basketball.
From there, he taught English at Washington High School, where he coached baseball and football.
Then, he made the jump to KCKCC, where the atmosphere of junior college baseball was appealing.
“I’ve really liked coaching in junior college because we have so few rules,” Burleson said. “It’s the kind of deal where if you work harder, you can get ahead. You’re not bound by a lot of the NCAA rules for amount of time practiced or recruiting or anything like that.”
He’s been selected the conference coach of the year four times, led the Blue Devils to three straight Region IV championships and coached teams with national rankings. He’s coached United States national teams at the Olympic Festival and an NJCAA all-star team that finished fourth at the Tournament of Champions in Havana, Cuba.
Along the way, Burleson served the Kansas City community. He required players to perform community service, has worked with nonprofits for various causes and collected donations for clothing and food banks.
He’s umpired charity Wiffle Ball tournaments and has hosted several youth baseball camps.
Burleson said it’s been a joy to serve the community and school and it’s something he plans to continue. From a baseball perspective, he still attends KCKCC home games and traveled to Wichita for the district tournament.
“My hope is we land in Grand Junction together,” Burleson said. That didn’t happen — Cowley College won the Central District.
He’s left the team in capable hands. Matt Goldbeck, who Burleson joked “spent 21 years training for this job” as an assistant, took over as head coach.
Goldbeck said Burleson’s number was retired this fall and he embodies Blue Devils baseball.
“I believe he is KCKCC baseball,” Goldbeck said. “We had our alumni game this fall and had close to 80 people back and they came back to honor him. He worked extremely hard to have teams that played the game with class and dignity. They worked hard on and off the field.”
Goldbeck also played for Burleson and said his coaching style reflects his mentor. So much of what the program does is thanks to Burleson, Goldbeck said.
“I was lucky to be able to not only coach with him for 21 years, but also play for him,” Goldbeck said. “He is a true baseball man. He taught me about everything in the game, from practice and game organization, how to handle pitchers, handling different personalities, to making sure the players were good students and put themselves in positions to be good men when they were done.
“Most importantly, I learned that it is about the players. I can’t tell you how many times I have had former players come back and say how much he has meant to them.”
Ultimately, Burleson said there has been plenty of joy in his coaching career.
“The nature of junior college baseball with there being a two-year turnover, you’d think that kind of works against building relationships with your players,” Burleson said. “Junior colleges are kind of the step-child in the college deal.
“But so many of the guys have come back to tell me they never had at their four-year school what we had here.”