By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH -Malcolm Burks can recall his proudest coaching moment as if it was yesterday. Although it was 15 years ago, it centered upon a timeless theme: making a youth believe in himself, something Burks has made his life passion, on and off the track.
“I remember that athlete saying to me, ‘Do you think I’m smart enough to go to college?’” recalled Burks. “That moment was a real reality check because it made me realize the enormous responsibility I have as a track coach; what I say to young people really matters, and I have to be able to have a plan for them and back it up to make what I say happen.”
Burks told that young man he was indeed smart enough, provided the plan and all the needed backup, and now that person is a college graduate, successful on multiple levels. It’s that kind of dedication- and so much more- to his craft that recently earned the Newburgh Free Academy Track and Field Coach Burks the distinct honor of being inducted into the Friends of Section IX Track and Field Hall of Fame. On Sunday May 5, at Kuhls Highland House in Middletown, Burks-surrounded by many of his athletes, joined two other coaches, 12 athletes and three officials at the Third Annual Induction Banquet.
A Newburgh resident as well as proud graduate of the NFA Class of 1979, Burks was a standout football and track star, who has been coaching at his alma mata for the past 20 years. Prior to his NFA role, he tallied 15 more years of coaching in other states and countries. However, despite his own impressive list of laurels, he will be the first one to tell you, “It’s not about me.” He has far bigger things (people) to be focused upon: his athletes.
“I think the biggest way you know you are doing this coaching thing right is when you see that your athletes are successful, in all ways, not just in the sport,” said Burks. “To do that, you have to deny your own self and put what you are doing first, and that’s not always easy, as you have so many roles to play: social worker, SAT and academic person, teacher, mother and father, and many more.” He added, “Practices and what happens on the track are the easy part; but when it’s all said and done, it’s about their success and not yours.”
And that success has certainly been plentiful. With his athletes earning a 98 percent college entrance rate over his two decade coaching tenure, Burks could not be more pleased with how the young men he has coached have evolved- not only as athletes, but as hard-working, respectful, kind and good people. Some are doctors. Others are lawyers. Still another in the mix is a professional athlete, ex-Olympian. Regardless of their job title or other status, all are better for having had been a part of Burk’s track program. His belief in Newburgh, the track program, as well as all his athletes have made a priceless difference.
“I believe in community, and every athlete should be afforded an opportunity to succeed despite their background,” said Burks. “Before I retire, I want to get as many of my athletes into colleges as possible, flooding the system.”
As of now, there is no retirement in sight for Burks. He loves what he does, his athletes and his community way too much to not continue to see what else is possible.
“I totally appreciate being recognized by Section 9, not just for my coaching, but what my athletes have accomplished here in Newburgh,” reflected Burks about his recent Hall of Fame induction. “They are doing some really great things here in the community, and I’m just so very glad I can represent Newburgh with them at the highest level and am so grateful to receive this honor.”