Back on bench

Lakeview long-time boys coach Gary Burke is now coaching the girls team. 

 GARY BURKE BACK on a basketball team’s bench benefits Lakeview High and the rest of us. And it provides lesson that there’s definitely a distinction between retiring and resigning.

Mere months after stepping aside as Sailors’ skipper, Burke is back busier than ever, now leading the Lady Sailors.

At the conclusion of last season’s 14-10 Sailors’ season, Burke, a Windber native, announced he was calling it a day, concluding an 18-year, 257-190 ledger at Lakeview. That ranked him 10th, all time, in Mercer County career cage coaching wins.  

The explanation as to what brought Burke back from an exile of honey-do domesticity is simple: A love of the game, and a gift to coach kids. And Burke brings out their best. 

Following a recent Lady Sailors’ success at Sharon, Burke related, “I’m enjoying it a lot. When you have nights like this when the girls go out and play as hard as they can, and play for each other, it makes me really proud to be sittin’ on the bench with them and encouraging them, and watching the fruits of their labor, with all the hard practices ... it’s exciting to watch!”

Coaching is coaching, but Burke admitted regarding the gentler gender, “Obviously, there’s a difference. These girls are literally like sponges. They want to know as much as you can give them, without overloading them. And I have to watch and make sure I don’t over-load their brains, because they haven’t had the basketball experience the boys have. So you can do a lot of the same stuff, but you have to scale it down and you have to baby-step with them a little bit more than the boys ‘cause they just don’t have the court time that the boys do.

“But, you know,” Burke emphasized, “they’re still kids, they still want to please, they want to work hard for you, they believe in you and they trust in you, and they’re getting trust in the program. So in that way, it’s a lot the same (as coaching boys). So I’m very excited to be here!”

Thus far this season’s Lady Sailors are 5-5 overall (1-1 region). And no outbursts from Burke, only bemusement.

“I’m trying to be more relaxed, ‘cause it’s better for the girls,” Burke began, explaining, “You know, the more I coach (girls), sometimes the less I’m coaching. So I want to sit back and let these girls feel comfortable about what they’re doing. 

“And when I am coaching, I actually do more coaching – sit there and really explain the game, explain things that we did well and things that we want to try differently next time. 

“You still have the same expectations, but you have to do it at a little bit slower pace,” the Lady Sailors’ skipper continued. “But the girls will definitely respond, and that’s the thing that’s makin’ me very proud.”

Burke began coaching various sports a quarter-century ago, but his energy is enviable. He related,

“It’s refreshing to be with the girls. Spending ... 25 years in four different sports with boys, this is refreshing. I really enjoyed my junior high (fall basketball) team this year; we had a really good season with those girls. We have talent in our program, and I’m excited to see where we’re gonna be at next year at this time –– top to bottom. That’s what’s really keepin’ me motivated.

“I’m actually coaching,” Burke continued, admitting, “ ... I didn’t think I’d ever coach as much as when I coached the boys, but I’m probably coaching a little bit more now than what I did,” related Burke, bursting into a laugh.

“But it’s a challenge. I’ve always been the kind of guy ... all the kids have to do is show me a sparkle in their eye, that they want to be here, that they’re gonna follow (directions) and they’re gonna try and do everything they can to be the best player they can and the best person that they can, and I’m like a puppy dog – I just follow along with them.

“I’m blessed to have the girls that we have in our program, because not only are they talented; they’re wonderful girls and they really want to work hard and change the appearance of ‘Lakeview Lady Sailors basketball,’ so I’m excited about it.

Retirement is for others; a resignation from one position simply affords another opportunity. Gary Burke is back better than ever, not necessarily re-invented; rather, rejuvenated. Hopefully Burke is back on a basketball bench for another 18 years. Burke is a boon for basketball, and credit to Mercer County. 

ED FARRELL is assistant sports editor for The Herald. E-mail him at

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