After 30 years of teaching, Bob Burns finally hangs ’em up
Bob Burns began his storied career in the Park City School District in March of 1978. Yesterday, he finally retired. Just out of the University of Illinois, where he played wide receiver on the football team, Burns came to Utah to take advantage of winter sports.
"I never doubted the move or looked to move back," he said.
Burns taught for several years at Hillcrest High School in Salt Lake City before Principal Jack Dozier recruited him to take the football head coaching position at Park City High School (PCHS). Hillcrest at that time enrolled around 2,000 while PCHS only had a head count of several hundred. PCHS, however, was a school on the rise.
In the late 1970s, PCHS underwent major changes. There were alterations to both the infrastructure and to the educational philosophy. It took a couple of years to convince students that these changes were beneficial and worthwhile, Burns said. As he taught a multitude of subjects, including math, science, health and social studies and coached football, basketball, track, tennis and other sports, Burns had ample opportunity to spend time with students. Although Burns may be best known for his career as a football coach, the tennis team won four state championships under his guidance.
The football team also changed significantly during that period. When Burns inherited the program, he took over a team with a lackluster record and an inability to beat local rivals North Summit and South Summit. Making matters worse, the team played on a barely serviceable field with no bleachers. With Dozier’s help and guidance, the team received a new field and stands for their fans to watch the games. Burns was also responsible for painting the field before the games. He remembered going out before games with his long-time assistant, Jesse Schaub, to mark the yard lines.
Almost immediately Burns led his team to victories over the rival schools and soon took the team to contention in regional and state finals. This improvement, however, was hard fought for Burns, who recalls expending a great deal of effort convincing the team to play the game as it was designed.
"The first thing we tried to do was improve their focus and establish a team philosophy," he said.
Burns also took creative license by integrating plays and formations from neighboring schools into the PCHS routine as a means of both preparation and diversifying the playbook.
Burns would go on to coach the football team for 14 seasons up until 1992 when he stepped down. During that time he took the team to the state championship twice and claimed multiple appearances in the semifinals.
As a constant believer in athletics as a means of personal development, Burns cites two former players as great standard-bearers of the PCHS program; Darren Bean and Bob Blackborn, although all of his players were expected to perform both scholastically and athletically. Bean, a talented strong safety, was the ultimate team player and went on to play college football and later earn a degree in medicine. Blackborn had a troubled hip socket and limited mobility but nonetheless managed to be a team captain as outside linebacker. He would go on to earn multiple doctorates in the sciences. Both student-athletes left their hearts on the field and went on to devote themselves to the betterment of others in careers of distinction he said. "Football is the best non-classroom teaching tool," he said. "In life you get knocked down. In football, everybody gets knocked down. If you get up quickly and get back in the game you’ll be successful."
Off the field, Burns also found himself as part of a greater push to redesign the educational system in place at PCHS during the ’80s. Of the students at the time, Burns said, "their perspective had been get a job we really felt there needed to be a pathway that included college prep but also we had numerous tech classes." This transformation in teaching ethic was not easy, Burns recalled. The majority of parents and administrators, however, supported it.
The whole staff during that period really raised expectations said Burns. The Park City School District at the time was among the poorest in the state, but the faculty began to set lofty goals for the students. To accommodate that change, GPAs had to be deflated to make the grades more realistic. The definition and importance of achievement also had to change.
Although Burns would go on to step down as athletic director in 1994 he remained active at PCHS and in the education community of Park City. In 1998 he became a full-time P.E. instructor, but until that point he counted math as one of his favorite subjects to instruct. More recently, he has been involved with the teacher’s association and holds that experience as one of the most rewarding of his career.
Although Burns plans to stay involved with the football team as a scout. He said he has been to every field in the state, he officially hung up his cleats and chalk last Friday.
"It’s been an honor and a privilege to work for this district. I am thankful for the opportunity and I hope the district got their money’s worth," he said.
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