KCKCC's STEVE BURLESON TO BE INDUCTED INTO NJCAA HALL OF FAME
36-year coach veteran compiled 1,136 wins, 13th most in NJCAA history
Early in his career as head baseball coach at Kansas City Kansas Community College, Steve Burleson chaired the Hall of Fame baseball selection committee for the National Junior College Athletic Association.
Today, Burleson is a member of that NJCAA Hall of Fame with induction ceremonies scheduled for the NJCAA World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., in early May.
"While I was a member of the committee, we inducted Jack Allen and Phil Griffin, Babe Ruth-type figures who were pivotal in the growth of the NJCAA," said Burleson. "For me to be considered for a club they are part of is incredibly humbling. Jack Allen took on Major League Baseball to get rid of the January draft because it was taking so many college players and won."
"Long overdue and well deserved," says Burleson's successor, Matt Goldbeck. Indeed, Burleson became only the second coach in the Jayhawk Conference to win 1,000 games back in 2012. Retired last July, Burleson finished a 36-year career with a 1,136-691 record (.614), seven Jayhawk Conference championships, three Region VI titles and four Coach of the Year selections. No. 13 on the all-time list of wins, Burleson also became the first active coach to be inducted into the KCKCC Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013.
At the annual alumni game last fall, some 70 former Blue Devil baseball players turned out to see Burleson's uniform No. 17 retired and his name and number emblazoned on the outfield fence. "Extremely gratifying," said Burleson. "To see the present team lined up from home to first and the returning alumni lined up from home plate to way down the left field line past third was really special."
To Goldbeck, a former Blue Devil player and an assistant for 21 years, Burleson was more than a coach. "I always felt he was a builder of men and not just baseball teams. One of the best complements he could receive was players who may have been disgruntled when they left but then came back and said they had 'got what he was trying to teach after they left' and it had made them better persons for it; that coach was not just trying to make me a better baseball player but a better person."
"I guess I learned a long time ago if you want something of quality you have to spend a lot of time with it on and off the field and have just as much concern about the student aspect as the athlete aspect," said Burleson. "By and large we've had good success as our players grew not only as athletes but persons."
Burleson's contributions, however, extended far beyond his wins and losses. One of the founders of the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference, he wrote the constitution that is still in force. "We wanted to get national recognition for our competitive conference and I think it remains an organization that really works to do what's best for the baseball student-athlete."
In addition to serving on the NJCAA Hall of Fame Committee, he served on Baseball Hospitality and International Competition committees and was 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.
Burleson was named head coach in the last summer of 1979 with help from his predecessor, Ken Gonzales, who would go on to gain fame as the Royals' scout who signed Bo Jackson. "Kenny really pushed for me to get the job although I only had one year of varsity head coaching experience at Washington High School," said Burleson.
Best known among the alumni are David Segui, who played 15 years in the major leagues; and David Young, who played 12 included one year with the Royals. "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."
"I don't think I'd have reached my full potential if I hadn't been challenged by Coach Burleson," said 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."
And there were others. "My first signee was Marty Renzelman, a 6-3 lefthander from Liberty who was our workhorse for the next two years," said Burleson. "Gary Lang was the shortstop on the team that got us to the sub-regional championship in 1984 that told us we could play with anybody. He went on to captain the team at KU and play in the Texas Rangers organization." From 1985-87, the Blue Devils won three straight Region VI championships and were ranked 10th, 16th and 17th nationally
Three of his ex-players returned as coaches – Goldbeck, who earned MVP honors at Washburn after two years at KCKCC; Bill Sharp, an outfielder from Liberty who is the only Blue Devil to play every inning in his two seasons at KCKCC; and Damian Stambersky, who Burleson recruited after seeing him catch three games in 95-degree one afternoon. Sharp is now in his seventh season as Blue Devil assistant while Stambersky is now on the baseball staff at Central Missouri after 12 years as a KCKCC assistant.
"Sometimes people late in their careers take it easy," said Goldbeck. "Coach Burleson never did. He always wanted to be on the baseball field. He loved baseball."
Perhaps the most telling statistic of Burleson's career is a record of having 88 percent of the players he coached receive scholarships to continue their education. "I've always believed there's a program for every guy," said Burleson. "If they want to continue their baseball careers, we would find a place for them. We probably worked as hard at getting players out as we did to get them in."
Retired KCKCC baseball coach Steve Burleson to be inducted into NJCAA Baseball Hall of Fame. (KCKCC Photo by Alan Hoskins)
The retirement of 36-year KCKCC baseball coach Steve Burleson brought out more than 70 former players last fall including Burleson's successor Matt Goldbeck (right). (KCKCC Photo