Multi-sport coach, athletic director and mentor steps down from Prattsburgh schools -- but that doesn’t mean he’s done

Jim Burke has been a staple in the community of Prattsburgh for the past 40 years, from head coach to athletic director. Burke announced his retirement at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, ending one of the most successful runs in area history.


Burke’s storied coaching career spans from 1976-2009 and, at 78, is still an assistant coach at Keuka College alongside his daughter, Keuka head coach Jamie Burke. Throughout his career, he’s played with some of the best athletes and coached some of the most successful teams in the state. Burke’s career has led him to be elected into the Section V Hall of Fame for baseball and basketball, the New York State basketball coaches Hall Of Fame, the Wayland-Cohocton Hall Of Fame and the National High School Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame.


Through it all, Burke has amassed over 1,000 career wins between all sports and has remained consistent into why he has been so successful.


"It’s all about the kids," said Burke. "I know leadership at the top is important. To the administrators, head of school, leadership. I’ve also had good kids along the way."


Youth, playing days and early coaching years


Burke was born and raised in Cohocton, where he had four brothers and seven sisters. After high school, Burke attended Arkansas State to play baseball where he lettered four years and he twice guided his team to the Midwest Regional championship.


As a freshman, Burke started in center field, but moved to relief pitcher his sophomore year and stayed there for the rest of his career.


At Arkansas State, Burke played in the first ever College Division World Series in 1968 where he faced off against former NBA player and coach Phil Jackson’s North Dakota State. Jackson was a multi-sport athlete at North Dakota State, as a 6’10" pitcher and a basketball player.


While Burke said himself that he, ‘wasn't going to the next level,’ his coach at the time allowed him to coach third base. The experience only added to a love of coaching instilled in him from his father that Burke would take with him throughout the rest of his career.


"That experience was the best thing for me," recalled Burke.


From there, Burke landed a teaching job for five years at a Juvenile Delinquent school outside of Rochester where he taught physical education.


Burke spearheaded athletic programs for the school and even had his teams wear blazers to games, something that would become a staple at his next stop.


Coaching career at Prattsburgh


Burke credits Jerry Read, an agriculture teacher at Prattsburgh, for his move to a school that he would have a profound impact on.


"Jerry put in a good word for me. He’s probably as responsible as anyone for getting me over there," said Burke.


When Burke took over as the Prattsburgh baseball coach in 1977, the team had a 28-game losing streak and won only one game. The team had lost 63 games in a row at one point in the mid 60’s. Burke recalled his catcher that first year not knowing he had to block a ball on ball four to keep a runner from advancing.


The second year, Burke took them to the sectional finals.


"It’s commitment," said Burke of the turnaround. "It’s not X’s and O’s for me -- it’s always been about getting kids to play for you."


In his baseball coaching career at Prattsburgh, the Vikings captured five sectional titles and made 10 Section V final appearances in his 26 seasons.


In boys basketball, Burke spent 28 years at the helm, where he led his teams to six sectional titles and one state title. Burke also led the girls team for 10 years.


He retired with 694 varsity basketball victories (517 with the boys team and 177 with the girls team) and led the Vikings to 10 total sectional championships (six boys, four girls).


Burke credits the kids and administrators for the successes he had for the Vikings.


"We had a lot of success, but without being surrounded by good kids, you’re not going to be successful," said Burke. "I couldn’t have had better administration," said Burke. "They weren’t afraid of students or teachers."


Green blazers


A staple of any Prattsburgh athletic contest is the forest green blazers the players wear before the game. You can find the varsity sitting in the bleachers with the blazers while the junior varsity is playing, and vice versa.


That idea originated from Burke in 1978.


Burke, throughout his coaching career, always had a Yankees-esque policy when it came to the way his players dressed.


His players were required to cut their hair, remove facial hair and weren’t allowed to wear earrings along with the blazers.


The community of Prattsburgh fell in love with it and it is still a a part of athletic programs some 42 years later.


"Parents would come up and say, ‘Thanks for making my kid get his hair cut,’" recalled Burke, chuckling.


Burke believed the ’magic’ in the jackets had something to do with all of the success the Vikings enjoyed during his tenure.


"We won basketball games in the past we shouldn’t have, because of things like that," said Burke. "Because of the discipline we had."


Greatest moment coaching


Recalling the best moment in his coaching career was easy for Burke.


The 1990-1991 boys basketball season, where Burke led the team to a perfect 29-0 record capping off the season with a 80-72 victory over Argyle in the state finals in Glens Falls.


Argyle, only an 11-minute drive from Glens Falls, packed the arena -- it felt like an away game for the Vikings, even though many Prattsburgh fans came to watch the squad.


"[We] had a lot from the area," said Burke. "The whole town of Prattsburgh was there."


The season before, Burke took the team to observe what a state championship atmosphere looked like.


"I thought we had a good chance to win the whole thing the upcoming year," said Burke. "So I thought it would be good to take the kids to Glens Falls to watch the state tournament."


During the 1990-91 regular season, the Vikings averaged 98 points per game and topped 100 points seven times.


In the semifinals against Bridgehampton, the Vikings trailed 14 points in the fourth quarter, then by eight with two minutes to go -- and still pulled out a miraculous 73-68 victory.


The team featured Brian Putnam, the current boys basketball coach at Prattsburgh, someone Burke called the ‘greatest male athlete he’s ever coached.’


Next steps


While Burke has accomplished about everything imaginable in the realm of high school coaching, he plans to keep going as long as he’s able.


Burke, despite his 78 years, still walks two miles each day to stay in shape, and still attends games in Prattsburgh when he can to watch his former players -- and the new players.


"I gotta hang around for my granddaughter," said Burke. "I don’t want to stop. Once you stop, it’s all over."