500! Longtime Bluejay basketball coach hits milestone
In addition to being Senior Night on Tuesday, Feb. 19, the Sabetha Bluejays hosted their rival the Nemaha Central Thunder for their final game of the 2018-19 regular season. The Bluejays defeated the Thunder, 37-28 in an exciting contest that ended with an even more exciting celebration after longtime Bluejay basketball coach Scott Burger achieved his 500th win.
“I did not know that the win versus Nemaha Central was number 500 until I looked at the pep section after the game,” Burger said. “It made it special being a home game, senior night and a game versus our rivals.”
The path to his 500th win started back in high school where he had a love for school, and had the dream to be a coach one day.
“I wanted to be a teacher/coach since I was in high school,” he said. “I loved going to school, and sports was a big reason for that. It was an easy decision to continue that dream by getting an educational degree, teaching business classes and hopefully coaching sports. Sabetha was my first job, and it quickly become apparent that this was a place I wanted to stay.”
Burger started his first job at Sabetha during the 1984-85 school year and took on the role of coaching freshman boys’ basketball for his first six years. According to Burger, those first years were special.
“It was a great experience and some of my most enjoyable years,” he said.
After coaching freshman boys, Burger transitioned to the varsity girls’ basketball coach in 1991 and stayed in that position for 12 years. During his time as the varsity girls’ coach, he achieved one State Championship in 1997, two second-place State finishes in 1991 and 1996; and a third-place State finish in 1995.
“Scott’s 1997 state champion girls’ team was a special championship,” said Marvin Kohlmeier, former Sabetha High School athletic director. “The team was undefeated and ranked number one in the state when Scott’s boy Josh was stricken with a second bout of leukemia. He had to spend a lot of time at the KU Medical Center with Josh and was able to come back for most of the games including Sub-State and State. But he still was able to devote the most important time to Josh, but not neglect his basketball team. It could’ve never worked out any sweeter for both the girls and for his family. Probably the sweetest moment in his 500th victory history.”
After a successful run as the girls’ coach, Burger made his final – and current – transition to varsity boys’ basketball coach in 2003.
As the boys’ coach, he has achieved two second-place State finishes – in 2009 and 2016 – and one third-place finish in 2015.
While going to the State tournament and placing are some of the “memories that last forever” as a coach, Burger said, many of his favorite memories have nothing to do with teams that have won a lot of games.
“Some of my favorite memories include seeing individuals and teams get better as the season goes along,” Burger said. “It’s seeing the chemistry of a team progress to the point where they know what their teammate is going to do before they do it. It’s watching parents’ eyes light up as their child plays a part — whether big or small — for the betterment of the team. It’s watching the pep section be part of the team, as they cheer us on to victory. It’s about the community support shown at our home and away games, or the incredible following we consistently have in post season play.”
While Burger has been a very successful coach throughout his time at Sabetha, he said his success can being attributed to many things.
“Getting a job at Sabetha out of college was the biggest blessing in my life,” he said. “This position enabled me to work under so many experienced and professional people. These coaches/teachers had foundations that were based upon honesty, integrity and hard work. I was taught to do everything the right way, and not to cut corners.”
In addition to his mentors, he said that the support given by family and the community is second to none.
“I was fortunate to be in a district where family and community support is exceptional from young ages to high school” Burger said. “I realize that almost every good team we’ve had, started at a young age because some parent or person was willing to take these kids and teach them the fundamentals of basketball and share the love of the game. Another important part has been our biddyball program, run by our high school players. They work with our elementary students, form a relationship with the kids and get them excited about the game. Those students look up to the high school players and want to be just like them.”
The last two items Burger said made his coaching experiencing successful were the assistant coaches and his family.
“I’ve worked with so many great assistant coaches, and their roles are so critical in our program,” he said. “They help teach our players the fundamentals of the game, they suggest strategies needed for our next opponent and they are constantly there to give advice not only in games, but throughout the year.”
“Lastly, behind every coach is a good supportive family,” Burger said. “They adjust their life to fit around the schedule of a coach. They are our number one fan. When things aren’t always going the way we want, they are there to support us. They give advice late at nights after a tough loss, and thankfully are also there to share in the successes.”
Burger said that there are so many highs when coaching a sport you love.
“The adrenaline rush before every game is so exciting,” he said. “As a coach, you’re still able to be involved with the sport you love and to hopefully see that same love by your players. The relationships and friendships you develop with your players, coaches, officials, families, and opposing teams/coaches is unlike any other occupations you can have. Often those relationships last long after the playing season is over.”
While there are many highs, there are also struggles with which Burger said he has had to contend.
“One of the biggest struggles is the long season,” he said. “Many years, basketball starts the second week of November and finishes the first week of March. Along with that, your teams must play basketball during the summer if you’re going to have a successful program.”
Another struggle Burger said is the nature of the game itself.
“You can only play five guys on the court at a time,” he said. “Often, we have several players that bring different strengths and trying to get them all in each game can be challenging. When we face different opponents, one must take into account their strength and try to counteract it with our player’s strength.”
Kohlmeier said Burger has a special ability to recognize these strengths in each and every player.
“Scott has the special ability to recognize the talent and the role each player contributes to the team effort,” Kohlmeier said. “He also relates so well to the players that they buy in. Scott also always has the ability to get his players to play with maximum effort. He also does a great job of recognizing other teams’ weaknesses and strengths, and being able to counter them.”
Even though there are many struggles, Burger said that any team can be successful if they play as a team.
“Basketball is a team sport,” he said. “You can be talented individually, but a team is not successful until they give of themselves to the betterment of the team. Playing together as part of the team builds a unique bond of friendship that lasts long after the playing season is over. Being on a team teaches work ethic, unselfishness and the ability to be teachable. Those are qualities that will be used throughout life.”
Burger explained his coaching philosophy, which also entails a tip to be successful.
“One of the most important things we can do to be successful is to focus on only what we can control,” he said. “For years, we [Sabetha teams] have emphasized the defensive end of the game. I realize that there are nights where our shots will not go in, but there is never a night where we can’t play great defense. Defense starts with our heart, and I want our players to take pride in giving 100 percent. In life, we can’t control some things, but what we can control is giving 100 percent and doing your best.”
Kohlmeier said that Burger has been a great mentor and coach for the athletes he has coached over the years.
“Scott has been a great mentor to both the girls’ and boys’ basketball teams at high school, because he exhibits and expects great values, and character above all,” Kohlmeier said. “One of his quotes is, ‘The difference between what you expect and what you accept is responsible for mediocrity in both basketball and life.’”