By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – Mike Potter has learned more lessons about coaching and life from his mentor, Malcolm Burks, than he can even relate. However, there is one in particular that stands out, epitomizing what the veteran role model Burks means to so many.
“I remember recently asking him how he thinks his kids (athletes) will be this upcoming season,” said a visibly emotional Potter, the Head Cross Country and Track and Field Boys Coach for Warwick. “He said he didn’t really care so much about that as where they will be in 20 years.”
It’s a statement that resonates with hundreds in the Newburgh community. Whether they were coached-past or present-by Burks, are the parent of one of those student athletes or a community member, the consensus across the board is that the Head Boys Track and Field Coach Burks changes lives for the better-not just on the track, but more importantly: off of it. A father-figure, role model, counselor, and much more, Burks is something special to every young person’s life he touches.
“He has created a family here,” said Potter. “And he doesn’t do it by demanding respect; he earns it.”
Evidence of that breadth of respect could be found Tuesday night at the Board of Education in the Newburgh Enlarged City School District Library on Grand Street. Here, at the School Board Meeting, a crowd full of confused and emotionally-charged people filled the room, prepared to speak out about a lingering, disturbing issue: The questionable reappointment of Coach Burks to his position as the Goldbacks’ Winter Track Coach.
At the center of the storm are some alleged violations of the attendance policy. Despite Burks’ testimony to the Grand Jury (that seemingly cleared his name) regarding his athletes’ attendance and track participation during the 2015-16 season, it appears questions still exist regarding the role he played. The state Education Department is now conducting its own audit with no indication of an end date. Meanwhile, Burks himself spoke directly to the Board Tuesday night.
“I did submit a list of students’ names for the Athletic Director to verify if they could compete; I’m not sure who to give the email information to in order to help solve this,” questioned Burks, who insisted he raised his hand, swore to tell the truth and told it during the Grand Jury investigation. “This now is all just happening so late.”
Superintendent of the Newburgh Enlarged City School District, Dr. Roberto Padilla, acknowledged the incredible outpouring of love and support for Burks; however, he also advised those in attendance of the importance of proceeding carefully and wisely when making this coaching appointment, especially considering the Grand Jury findings. One of those conclusions was that some of Burks’ athletes competed while not academically eligible. According to Padilla, he, along with the school board, are trying their best not to make rash decisions, rather diligently sift through all the information, uncovering the truth.
In the meantime, former student athletes who were and continue to be positively impacted by their interactions with Burks, are left confused and frustrated by how someone who has done so much good for the Newburgh schools as well as entire community can be facing such an uncertain future, potentially left unable to do what he loves for those he is passionate about assisting and inspiring and who adore him.
“This generation needs role models; this man does everything, helping kids with sports, family problems, SATs and ACTs…you name it,” said NFA graduate and former long-time track and field member Kayla Phillips, “He changes lives for the better; he is there for them whenever they need him and really, truly cares.”