Life and basketball

Guest blog by Byron Burnette

Teacher and Coach, Pisgah High School

Canton, NC

When I first entered teaching our economy was in recession, so I applied to be an Exceptional Children (EC) teacher assistant in my old high school. I knew nothing about EC, other than it takes a special person to work with these students, and I did not think that person was me. I wanted this to be temporary — until I could find a social studies job.

But I had my foot in the door and I was in my home town. I was feeling pretty good. About 3 days into the semester the girls’ basketball coach approached me about being his assistant and coaching the JV team. I gladly agreed because I have always loved basketball, and this was something I wanted to do all of my life. My career in public education had begun and I was ready to go.

Unfortunately, one of the special education teachers did not earn enough continuing education credits, so she had to be replaced. I took the PRAXIS and became licensed in Exceptional Children in order to take her position.

As I began to learn about teaching EC, I often felt overwhelmed. But it was basketball that kept me going. I loved it.

As the season progressed, I built relationships with both the boys’ and girls coaching staffs. The boys’ varsity coach was approachable and passionate about coaching basketball. He loved coaching basketball because he loved making a difference in the lives of his players.

He had been diagnosed with testicular cancer when he was 23 years old. He had beaten cancer and was alive and well. I was fortunate to have him mentor me in life and basketball. The most important thing he did for me was he treated me like a professional. He asked my opinion about things, and he honestly wanted to know what I thought. This meant a lot to me because it is not very often that a varsity boys’ coach asks the opinion of a rookie JV girls’ coach. But he did and it was meaningful to me.

Three years later I am in my 4th year of teaching and coaching and he is still the varsity boys’ coach. About a month before the start of the season he was diagnosed with a stomach tumor the size of a football. It was pressing on vital organs and shutting down his body.

Our whole school was devastated. This is a 34-year-old man who is married with 2 young kids. He has already beaten cancer once.

I will never forget how he handled the news. He told the principal and athletic director that he wanted to coach as long as he was able, and the administrators agreed. His attitude through all of this was impeccable and he was always trying to do things for other people, giving of himself even when he was the one in need.

He is putting his all into being a husband, a father, and a coach and fighting for his life. The community rallied around him and people began to donate money from all over the place to help pay his medical bills. The school’s booster club and a local gym partnered together to raise money to help him and his family. The generosity of the community and the school was overwhelming. The love that was shown to this man and his family was amazing, as was his generosity to others during this difficult time. He was an example to everyone of how people are supposed to be.

As I am writing this, there is a tear in my eye from pain but a smile on my face of hope, because this is happening right now. Coach is undergoing chemotherapy for the next 12 weeks. We hope the tumor will shrink and the doctors can remove it. I am optimistic that he will continue to be able to impact the lives of young people through his passion for basketball.

The generosity from the coach and from the community has changed who I am as a person. I have realized that when people do things for the right reasons, lives are changed for the better. I hope the next time you hear from me, he will be healthy and back to being a full time husband, father, and coach.




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