By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – During the end of the school year, Malcolm Burks is focused on one thing: assisting his athletes to finish the academic year strong, some for their remaining tenure at Newburgh Free Academy, and others for their pending college journeys. So, when his latest coaching laurels were revealed, he was both shocked and humbled.
“I was surprised to think it would be me; it was really something I never even thought of getting,” said Burks about his selection as the US Track and Field and Cross Country Association’s Boy’s Track and Field Coach of the Year. “I never even set my sites on that award, something I looked at as way out there.”
The criteria used for the award selections (one male, one female) make it easy to see its elusive quality. Just three years old, it bases its selection upon; the number of events athletes qualified for state appearances, teams’ finishes at State Championships, how those performances stacked up to previous years, individual championships, as well as a host of other qualifiers. The field is laden with rich and numerous talent; New York State has an enormous number of track and field coaches as well as a deep, respected reputation in the sport, making Burks’ honor all the more impressive.
The Head Coach of the Goldbacks’ Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Teams since 2008, Burks has been the mastermind behind the long legacy of State and National Championships his teams have earned over the past 15 years, tracing back to his Assistant Coach days. The stellar, unplanned scholastic coaching career all began when Burks, a 1979 NFA graduate (where he played football and competed in sprints and jumps in track and field) and member of the military, was stationed at West Point. During this time, he would make regular trips to the NFA Track, helping out the track team in any capacity he could. It wasn’t long before the athletes wanted him to officially come on board.
“We made it happen,” reflected Burks about the coach hiring. “It was really all about my way of giving back.”
Burks has not stopped those guiding gestures since. His knowledge of and passion for the sport is only rivaled by his belief in and genuine care and concern for his athletes.
They are qualities that have produced results on and off the track. On the track, this year, his 4 x 400 Meter Relay Team broke the New York State Meet Record; they further secured a third place finish at the National Championships. As a result, the Goldbacks’ 4 x 400 relay now holds three of the six fastest times ever run in the event is State history. The feats go on individually; another one of his athletes grabbed 400 hurdle State Championship honors.
Despite Burks’ extreme pride in what his charges accomplish each year on the track, it’s what they do in the classroom and life that has always produced his most joy. A broad smile covers his face as he talks about how 98 percent of the students he has coached over the years have gone on to college. Three of his 2017 graduates signed Letters of Intent, receiving scholarships for both track and academics. The other two are set to enter college, and track and field is in their collegiate plans as well.
Burks will continue to set the bar high for his athletes as he continues to pursue his coaching love, hoping to extend the legacy of impressive state and national appearances; however, there will always be another more potent, guiding mission and philosophy that transcends splits on his stopwatch or any medals or trophies.
“I want to help them become student-athletes, good overall people and citizens who can give back and contribute in a positive way,” said Burks, who with his New York State Coaching Honor now moves on to the National Coach of the Year Competition. “The biggest reward as a coach for me will always be seeing the kids grow and mature, seeing them handle different responsibilities and just adapt to being able to do school, sports, their social lives and everything else; that’s what really matters.”