After winning six SCAA championships in six seasons as the Pittsford boys’ track and field head coach, Mike Burger is calling it quits to focus on another group of young athletes — his own kids.
Burger said he will continue his coaching duties as an assistant with the football program and as the head varsity basketball coach for now, but it is the right time to try and find a bit more balance in his life.
“Track is a tremendous time commitment you know, with almost every Saturday in the spring — we only have one Saturday off at Pittsford and that’s for prom,” he said.
“There are some other opportunities available. I’m going to try to spend some time coaching some little league baseball for (my son) Jake, and (my daughter) Stacy, she’s playing softball and I don’t want to miss that.”
Burger had big shoes to fill when he took over the boys’ track and field program, those of Bruce Caswell — a state championship winning coach — to be exact, and he did Caswell, as well as the legendary Ralph Crume’s tradition justice by creating a winning tradition of his own.
Even though his boys dealt with affliction throughout the 2009 track season and lost a pair of SCAA dual meets, they ultimately came out on top at the league championship meet, just like they have the previous five seasons.
Burger was visibly stirred on May 19 when his team achieved that feat, and he held nothing back in showing how he felt.
“I don’t know if this team is as gifted on the track as some of the others I’ve had, but this team certainly sticks together well, they work hard everyday in practice and it’s been amazing,” Burger said following the SCAA championship meet. “We were so focused tonight because we wanted it bad; sure a division title in the regular season would’ve been the frosting on the cake, but we think this meet is a true representative of our league and it was a goal and it was the biggest one.”
That championship victory came just one day after Burger told his squad that this would be his final season at the helm.
“I think that they were disappointed. It it is good I guess, but it didn’t make the decision any easier,” he said.
Burger informed Wildcat athletic director John Hoeft midway through the season and he admits the entire process has been far from easy.
“It was pretty difficult. Especially the way the season ended, the kids really overcame some adversity this year and some injuries and stepped it up and won the league, and then Ben (Wines) did a great job at the state meet, so it wasn’t easy,” he said.
Burger said some of his favorite memories, aside from going 6-for-6 on league championships, were watching some of the individual and relay team state champs he coached train for success all year long and then come through in late May.
When asked who he thinks would be a good choice to succeed him, he said he hasn’t really concerned himself with that, as it’s really in the hands of Hoeft. Several messages were left with Hoeft, but the calls were not returned.
But Burger said he obviously wants somebody good, and he would have some simple advice for whoever takes over.
“Whoever is next to take it, I would just say they have to work hard, try to be the best that they can be and make sure they represent Pittsford well,” he said.
Burger said he also feels confident that he isn’t leaving the cupboard anywhere close to bear.
“I think the team should honestly be fine next year. We only have two seniors, we have Garet Lee back, we have Brent Smith back, we have guys who can step into Ben’s shoes, good throwers, in Jason Smith and Brandon Williams,” he said. “We have great pole vaulters. We don’t have a whole lot of sprinters, but we didn’t have them anyways.”
Burger said he is thankful for the role coaching plays in his life and he absolutely loves the kids he coaches, as if they were his own, but it certainly is only part of who he is.
“For now. I try not to let anything dominate my whole life,” he said. “To me coaching has been part of my career, it’s not my life. I read something a long time ago, from legendary basketball coach Don Meyer (the winningest NCAA men’s basketball coach of all time and currently the head coach at Northern State University). He said you’ve got to work in a way that will allow you to keep working that way for 20 years, and that’s how I want to be.”