No longer will any Blue Devil baseball player wear the No. 17 worn for 36 years by retired Kansas City Kansas Community College coach Steve Burleson.
Approximately 70 former Blue Devil players and coaches turned out Saturday for ceremonies retiring Burleson's number and the unveiling of the number and Burleson's name on the outfield fence in left-center.
Burleson joins the late Dr. Mike Haen as the only coaches to have their numbers retired. Named head coach after Dr. Dave Klein stepped down as KCKCC's first head baseball coach in 1978, Dr. Haen was killed in a shooting while serving as a reserve officer of the Kansas City Police Department. Dr. Haen's No. 12 was also unveiled on the outfield wall in right centerfield.
In addition to the retirement of the No. 17, Burleson was presented a guitar with KCKCC emblazoned on one side and the College logo on the other.
Burleson's teams won 1,136 games and seven Jayhawk Conference championships during his 36 seasons. Four times he was voted Coach of the Year and from 1985-87, the Blue Devils won three straight Region VI championships and were ranked 10th, 16th and 17th nationally. In 2013, he became the first active coach to be inducted into the KCKCC Athletic Hall of Fame.
Burleson's contributions, however, extended far beyond his wins and losses. He wrote the constitution for the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference; served as chairman of the National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame committee as well as on 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 coached received scholarships to continue their education.
(Story and photo by Alan Hoskins)