Hammond's Burke shooting for elusive county title Bridesmaid role old after 6 years

January 24, 1993|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,Staff Writer

To his players, Hammond High boys basketball coach Jack Burke is more than just an X's and O's guy.

He's father, therapist, massager of egos, disciplinarian and friend.

"I enjoy my relationships with the players," Burke said. "I feel as if I have 15 different sons every year."

This is Burke's eighth season as Hammond's head coach. He was assistant coach to Mike Mongelli for nine years before that.

His caring attitude has been successful. Since becoming head coach, his teams are 105-61, have won two regional championships and reached the state finals twice.

They finished second in the league six straight years until last season -- an 8-14 disaster in which they lost six games by a total of nine points.

Now the Bears appear ready to challenge for the county title that has eluded them under Burke, and they've already upset Mount Hebron and Centennial this season.

"We're only halfway as good as we can be," Burke said. "But this team believes in itself and we're off to our best league start ever. We're usually a second-half-of-the-season squad."

In Burke's corner is assistant coach Dana Beszczynski, who is young, enthusiastic and enjoys a lot of freedom. Beszczynski does the scouting and runs the team portion of practice under Burke's sideline supervision.

During games, when Burke is unhappy with a player's court performance and calls for a sub, Beszczynski picks the substitute.

Burke, 37, grew up in Elkridge and never played basketball in high school or college. A birth defect that required surgery on both ankles during high school prevented him from participating in sports.

But he was an excellent student -- he finished seventh in his class at Howard, was second in his class at Frostburg State and carried a 4.0 grade-point average while earning his masters equivalency at Johns Hopkins -- and now he considers himself a student of the game of basketball.

He stays up late at night watching college basketball games hoping to learn something. One year he picked up an unusual defense from watching television, and it became instrumental in the team's success.

He has learned much of what he knows from the person he calls his guru -- Mongelli. But he also learned a lot from Al Moraz, his assistant for three years before Beszczynski.

"I'm the quintessential sponge," he said. "And I've been lucky to be surrounded by great people."

His former principal at Hammond, David Bruzga, admires Burke's devotion to the game.

"Jack puts enormous time and energy into coaching, has immense knowledge and he's a competitor who gets the best from the talent he has," Bruzga said. "He has a good demeanor with the kids. He's colorful and has a good sense of humor, but takes the game seriously."

The Baltimore Sun's Howard County Coach of the Year in 1989 when his team was 19-7, Burke is modest about his coaching ability.

"I'm adequate at all aspects of coaching but not great at any. There are better X's and O's guys, better philosophers, and coaches who have better relationships with their kids," Burke said. "But I don't think anyone has a greater love of the game."

Burke, who lives in Severna Park with his wife and two daughters, has made one change in coaching procedure that he thinks is helping this season.

"We're spending 45 minutes of each practice working on individual skills development," he said. "In the past, players would improve as team players, but by the time they graduated they hadn't always improved their individual skills. We're trying to correct that."

Burke teaches honors social studies and world history at Hammond and stresses academics to his players. He conducts a 75-minute monitored study hall every day before practice.

"I tell them they have to be students first," he said.

In addition to basketball, he has coached football, track and softball at Hammond.

What does he find hardest about coaching?

"Trying to convince 17-year-olds that you know what you're talking about," he said.

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